A new animal model study from the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom suggests that the effectiveness of drug treatment for addiction may depend on the phase of the addiction. Using lab rats, the researchers found that their subjects responded differently to drug treatment depending on whether their cocaine addiction was in its early stages or fully-fledged.
The study appeared June 30in the journal Biological Psychiatry. Currently, there are no drug treatments available for cocaine addiction in humans. However, the researchers believe that their findings are relevant to many kinds of addiction because they show that the “one-size-fits-all” approach to drug treatment may not be equally effective for every patient.
Structure of the Study
At the start of the study, the researchers tested a group of lab rats to determine where each subject fell on a scale of impulsivity. By allowing a group of 40 male rats to self-administer food pellets, the researchers identified those that showed high levels of impulsivity and those that had comparatively low impulsivity.
The rats were then taught to self-administer cocaine and at various points each rat was given a drug that blocks dopamine receptors, neutralizing the effects of the cocaine. Some rats were given this drug relatively early on, while others were given the drug after a cocaine habit was well-established.
The results of this study revealed two significant trends among the rat subjects. First, the researchers found that the rats with high impulsivity scores were less likely to be affected by the dopamine-receptor blocker than the rats with low impulsivity. The second significant result was that the rats that were in the early phases of addiction did not respond as well to the treatment drug as those in later phases of addiction.
A Need for Customized Addiction Treatment
While drug treatment helps many people with the extremely difficult process of drug abuse and addiction recovery, it is by no means universally effective. As a result, researchers across the world continue to hunt for new kinds of treatment or ways to improve existing treatment.
The Cambridge study helps shed light on why drug treatment may be highly effective for some drug users but less so for others. Identifying trends such as these could help professionals prescribe courses of treatment for people in drug abuse recovery that are best suited to their situation and personality.
The relatively strong results seen from drugs like Suboxone, which can be prescribed to people in recovery from opioid addiction, make it tempting for physicians to prescribe them automatically for addiction. Increasingly, these kinds of drugs are prescribed without significant screening, and often without the benefit of counseling or other types of treatment in combination with medication.
There are some risks involved in this approach to treatment. Without screening and monitoring, some patients end up misusing or abusing the drugs. But even without these complications, patients who rely entirely on drugs to treat their addiction may not succeed in getting sober and staying in recovery from this dangerous illness.
Ideally, studies like this one will help promote changes in the way we approach addiction treatment. Physicians will be able to prescribe treatment drugs for people who are most likely to respond to them, while turning to other kinds of therapy for people who are less likely to respond to drugs.
Of course, it is not simply a lack of information that causes many patients and doctors to rely solely on drug treatment for addiction. Financial limitations, time constraints and other challenges make it harder to fully screen each patient and tailor treatment individually. However, if research continues to mount about the importance of customizing treatment, it may gradually become the norm rather than a comparative luxury.