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Social Support Aids Recovery from Drug Addiction, Study Suggests

Social Support Aids Recovery from Drug Addiction, Study Suggests

Having an option to receive social support rather than use drugs is better at reducing relapse than cutting out drugs completely, and this behavior has its own control circuit in the brain, according to research co-authored by University of Texas neuroscientist Robert Messing. The research, done in partnership with the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, provides evidence supporting existing recovery offerings and has implications for developing new drug-addiction treatments.

Many existing therapies have patients in recovery convene to abstain from drug use, for example, in forums like Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, and this study provides evidence into why social interactions fostered by these programs may be important. On the other hand, some people with addiction experience having to go cold turkey alone, such as after being put in jail, and these individuals would be at higher risk of relapse, according to the findings.

The experiment, conducted with rats, compared the behavior of animals that were kept isolated versus those who had the option of interacting with others. When rats had the option of choosing to be with another animal, they opted for the social alternative over the drug and were subsequently less likely to seek the drug.

Since the animals given a social choice sought drugs less often, the results indicate that recovery programs that involve interactions with other people may be a better option for treatment, according to Messing.

"Relapse is best prevented by bringing people into a supportive social network," Messing said. "I think these findings underscore that idea."

The research also found that different groups of neurons in one area of the brain, the amygdala, appear to control the outcome of these behaviors, according to Messing.

"There is a very unique brain circuitry that's recruited when you involve social choice, and that circuitry is different if you deprive somebody of drugs," Messing said. "And these circuits appear to differentially affect drug seeking."

The researchers also identified an important protein (called PKC-delta) that appears to be necessary for the protective effects of social interaction on drug seeking.

"Once this protein was depleted, it blocked the protective effect of social behavior, which was really interesting but kind of a surprise," Messing said. "The result validated that the protein is probably very important for the behavior."

While the research identifies a specific area of the brain and even pinpoints a particular protein, the precise functions of each are still not well understood and could take time to develop into new treatment candidates.

"This work is in the early discovery phase, so it hasn't nominated a clear drug target yet," Messing said. "But it provides a new and exciting area to explore."

Messing directs the Waggoner Center for Alcoholism and Addiction Research and will assume the position of chair for the Department of Neuroscience later this year. He collaborated with NIDA researchers Marco Venniro, Trinity Russell, Leslie Ramsey, Christopher Richie, Heidi Lesscher, Simone Giovanetti, and Yavin Shaham on the paper.

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Monday, 01 June 2020

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