New Activities May Help Cocaine Addicts Avoid Relapse

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A new set of controlled experiments suggest that novelty--new and different things and situations--may help prevent relapse among cocaine addicts.

The Study

A multi-stage study was performed on cocaine-treated rats, who were taught to associate one compartment with receiving cocaine and another with receiving a saline solution. When drug-free and allowed to choose between the compartments, the rats were more likely to visit the one they associated with cocaine.

In the next stage of the study, half the rats continued to be placed in the same bare saline-paired compartment as before, while the other half discovered something new in the compartment (a white sock, a little piece of PVC pipe, a plastic scouring pad or balled-up newspaper).

When drug-free, the rats were again allowed to choose between the two compartments. Rats that had been trained on low and middle level doses of cocaine and then given the novel objects spent an equal amount of time in both compartments. Rats that didn't receive the novel objects and those that had been given large amounts of cocaine continued to prefer the cocaine-associated side.

What Does This Mean?

Returning to drug-associated settings can put a recovering addict at greater risk for relapse, so the finding that new activities can compete with the draw of these settings provides another tool for addiction treatment. According to the study authors, their findings suggest that new, interesting activities could help recovering addicts who were mild cocaine users. Such novelty may help prevent relapse, especially among addicts with risk-taking personalities.

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