While keeping Austin weird, researchers at the University of Texas at Austin have trained rats to be alcoholics and addicted to cocaine, and thereafter proved a link between the blood pressure medication, isradipine, and a decrease in addiction.
Scientists classically conditioned rats to associate different colors of rooms with a dose of alcohol or cocaine, and found when given the choice, rats would gravitate toward the color room associated with the substance. However, when isradipine was introduced to the mix, the rats steadily began to show no preference for the rooms with doses of alcohol or cocaine.
According to the lead researcher of the study, Hitoshi Morikawa, associate professor of neuroscience at the University of Texas, “The isradipine erased memories that led them to associate a certain room with cocaine or alcohol.”
It used to be believed that people who became addicted to drugs simply lacked the willpower to stop using, which is pretty consistent with the drug-laden bum stereotype we grow up believing and which currently sprinkle the streets outside many a shoe-box-sized apartment in cities.
However, it is now scientific belief that environmental cues, such as sights, sounds and the dingy places you go to use drugs, can facilitate a relapse. Scientists now believe addiction has a lot more to do with classical conditioning than merely a lack of willpower.
The researchers found that the isradipine rewires the brain a bit, helping the addicted rat to dissociate room color with wanting to use drugs or alcohol, essentially helping them forget to be addicted.
Isradipine is already FDA approved as a high blood pressure treatment, which will likely make clinical testing easier, and could potentially help human addicts in the near future. However, it is unclear as of yet whether isradipine will be as effective for humans as it was the rats. Regardless, great news for the alcoholic rat in your life.