Study: Going cold turkey worsens addiction

Study: Going cold turkey worsens addiction

Researchers at Bar Ilan University offer a new treatment to block genetic predisposition to withdrawal symptoms

File: Illustrative photo of cocaine (CC BY-SA Valerie Everett, Flickr)
File: Illustrative photo of cocaine (CC BY-SA Valerie Everett, Flickr)

A study conducted in partnership with Bar-Ilan University and funded by the Israel Anti-Drug Authority has found that common methods of treating drug addiction have an adverse effect on recovery.

“The mainstay of current approaches to treating addiction might actually aggravate it,” says Professor Gal Yadid of Bar Ilan University’s Leslie and Susan Gonda (Goldschmied) Multidisciplinary Brain Research Center.

Yadid’s team published its findings in a recent article in the Journal of Neuroscience. The team found that a number of DNA markers underwent changes during withdrawal that led to a greater eagerness to go back to usage.

The writers therefore recommended against cold-turkey style addiction treatments.

‘The mainstay of current approaches to treating addiction might actually aggravate it’

The team trained rats to self-administer cocaine when prompted by visual or auditory cues and then took away the drug. They then compared the rats’ responses to a renewal of the cue, from one day after their last use to 30 days afterward.

“Surprisingly, we discovered that the biggest changes in DNA methylation occurred not during the exposure to the drug but during withdrawal,” added Yadid. “During this period of withdrawal, hundreds of genes changed their state of DNA methylation, including genes that were known before to be involved in addiction.”

As part of their research, the team injected a DNA methylation inhibitor, RG108, into rats to stem drug cravings.

“We discovered that injecting the drug RG108 just before the animals were exposed to the light cue after the long withdrawal not only stopped the addictive behavior of the animals, it also lasted for a longer period. This suggests that a single treatment with RG108 could reverse or perhaps cure drug addiction.” said Moshe Szyf, a professor in the Faculty of Medicine at McGill and co-author of the study.

“We inherit our genes from our parents and these genes remain fixed throughout our life and are passed on to our children; we can do very little to change adverse genetics changes that we inherit.”

“In contrast, epigenetic marks such as DNA methylation act as switches and dimmers of genes — they can be switched on, off, or dimmed — by epigenetic drugs inhibiting DNA methylation and removing methyl marks from these genes.”

The study is the latest product of a three-year-old partnership between Bar-Ilan and McGill, born out of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed in 2012 signed by Bar-Ilan President Prof. Moshe Kaveh and McGill Vice-Principal (Research and International Relations) Dr. Rose Goldstein.

Authors of the study in addition to Yadid and Szyf included Renaud Massart, Royi Barnea, Yahav Dikshtein, Matthew Suderman, Oren Meir, Michael Hallett, Pamela Kennedy and Eric J. Nestler.

Support for the study in addition to the Israel Anti-Drug Authority came from the Canadian Institute of Health Research, and the Ministry of Economic Development, Innovation and Research of the government of Quebec.



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