Alcohol, Drug Cravings Still Persist In The Brain Postmortem

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Alcohol, Drug Cravings Still Persist In The Brain Postmortem

A new study from the Medical University of Vienna has found that alcohol and drug cravings continue to exist in the brain even after death. They call it “dependence memory”, and the findings could positively alter the way in which we approach addiction from a scientific perspective.

The study, recently published in the Journal of Addiction Research & Therapy noted that “this addictive craving is stored in a sort of ‘memory’ function and, surprisingly, can still be detected after death.” This is called “dependence memory.”

The change involves “…a protein known as FosB in the reward center of the brain alters in chronically ill people suffering from an addictive disorder (e.g. heroin addiction).”

That is, the change caused by the substance results in the protein remaining longer in the brain that it would in its natural form, and may continue to be detectable for several weeks after drug withdrawal. Of course, this makes perfect sense – we know that substance cravings often persist long after a person has completely detoxed from alcohol or drugs.

It’s been widely accepted in the research community for some time that addiction has a lasting impact on the addict’s brain, resulting in changes which are detectable through scientific processes. However, this is the first time these changes have been shown to persist beyond death. In living persons, these changes may last even longer, perhaps months.

Implications

This finding could greatly impact scientific approaches to drug treatment, and what type of support people require after detoxing from substances. That is, perhaps we need to apply even more emphasis on the critical need for aftercare and psychological support.

Moreover, this is why many people relapse after detoxification if they don’t receive the proper support (i.e. inpatient or outpatient treatment and medication-assisted therapy.)

~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology

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