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Category Archives: Science

Careful about mixing pain meds and anti-Ds, especially if you’re a woman

New research indicates that women in the US, while still trailing men, are unfortunately catching up to them in fatal overdoses from pain medications. And the same research indicates such overdoses are more likely among women who have been prescribed antidepressants as well as pain medications.

Also, this isn’t primarily a problem for the young:

While younger women in their 20s and 30s tend to have the highest rates of opioid abuse, the overdose death rate was highest among women ages 45 to 54, a finding that surprised clinicians. The range indicates that at least some portion of the drugs may have been prescribed appropriately for pain, Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, said in an interview. If death rates were driven purely by abuse, then one would expect the death rates to be highest among younger women who are the biggest abusers.

As Volkow notes, in many cases, the opiates (and likely the anti-depressants as well) were properly prescribed, and not originally sought out for illicit use. It’s still a word of caution, though.

Erasing “old tapes” may work, and help may be closer

People trying to recover from addiction often talk about trying to erase “old tapes,” that is old memories about habitual addictive behaviors.

Now, a study on rats says that there may be something real to that, and there may be a medical way to help make that happen.

A group of rats was given a chemical in a test to try to make this happen, on old memories in a drinking lab rat’s life:

Dorit Ron, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), and her team show that strategically blocking the mTORC1 signalling pathway reduces alcoholic relapse by disrupting memories linked to past drinking.

The researchers made rats into “problem drinkers,” then did a chemical intervention with a drug called rapamycin.

The researchers took alcohol away from the animals for 10 days and then gave each of them a tiny drop — just enough for the taste and odour to reawaken alcohol-related memories. Immediately afterwards, some rats received a drug called rapamycin, which inhibits mTORC1 activity.

Result? This:

All the rats had been trained to press a lever to receive alcohol, but those that received rapamycin after memory reactivation showed significantly less inclination to do so over a two-week period.

Caveats apply about small search size, need to replicate this, etc. But, it sounds promising. And in the tested rats, at least, no problematic side effects.

Rapamycin does not seem to affect memory formation, but instead disrupts the reconsolidation of existing memories into long-term storage after they have been reactivated. Preliminary tests suggest that the drug’s effects can be quite specific, and do not affect the animals’ consumption of other desirable substances such as sugar-water.

Stay tuned.

There’s more here on how previous events may affect what are known as “epigenetic markers” on our DNA, how this affects our memory, and how medications may be able to change this.

Naltrexone cousin gets OK in UK for alcoholism

Nalmefene, known commercially as Revex, has been approved in Britain to help problem drinkers by reducing their desire for alcohol.

A clinical trial into the drug helped patients cut the amount they consumed from 12.75 units a day to five units a day – a 61 per cent reduction. And patients who underwent counselling as well as taking the drug reduced their “heavy drinking days” from 23 days a month to nine days a month after undergoing the treatment for six months, researchers said.

Nalmefene is touted as having a longer half-life than naltrexone and less effect on the liver, per the first link.

While the study didn’t focus on people wanting to quit drinking, it seems this is an obvious use for it.

Sounds like a good addition to the toolbox. That said, per the first link, I do not know why it is not available in the US if it has some superiority to naltrexone.

Does your brain know if you’re likely to relapse?

Some interesting research funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism says yes.

Using brain scans, researchers found that people in recovery from alcoholism who showed hyperactivity in areas of the prefrontal cortex during a relaxing scenario were eight times as likely to relapse as those showing normal brain patterns or healthy controls.

The prefrontal brain plays a role in regulating emotion, the ability to suppress urges, and decision-making. Chronic drinking may damage regions involved in self-control, affecting the ability to regulate cravings and resist relapse.

It certainly sounds sensical. That said, it will be a long time before rehabs, let alone general medical clinics, are offering fMRI scans to people in early recovery to check this.

But, we can take away from this that the idea of “triggers” is a real concern, if long-term drinking has affected those regulatory abilities.

And, the difference is significant:

The investigators found that individuals in recovery who showed patterns of heightened activity in the prefrontal region during the relaxing situation were much more likely to experience cravings for alcohol and subsequent relapse. These patterns of craving-related activity increased the likelihood of early relapse by 8.5 times and relapse to heavy drinking by 8.7 times. Abnormally low activity during the stressful scenario was also linked to greater number of days drinking after relapse.

So, while we’re far from the point of offering fMRIs, it seems like the need is there.

Meanwhile, keeping that idea of “triggers” handy sounds good.

Dealing with PTSD

Especially now that Lifering has gone public with its “dual diagnosis” email support list, this story from Scientific American is apropos to read. It’s primarily about PTSD in US military veterans, but due to PTSD occurrence being fairly high among alcoholics and addicts, it’s quite relevant to Lifering. It’s a good read for anybody who knows someone with PTSD, or someone suffering with its effects themselves.

It has a fair dose of “realism,” which I’ll note below the fold.

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