Subconscious signals can activate drug craving

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Washington, Jan 29 : Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have found that subconscious cues can trigger drug craving in addicts. The study led by Dr. Anna Rose Childress and Dr. Charles O'Brien discovered that cocaine-related images triggered the emotional centres of the brains of patients addicted to drugs even if they are inattentive.

The research was conducted using a brain imaging technology called functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) where the patients were showed photos of drug-related cues like crack pipes and chunks of cocaine in a flash of 33 milliseconds, that the patients were not consciously aware of seeing them. They found that unseen images motivated an activity in the brain network involved in emotion and reward that triggered drug seeking and craving.

"This is the first evidence that cues outside one's awareness can trigger rapid activation of the circuits driving drug-seeking behaviour," said Dr. Nora Volkow, director National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). "Patients often can't pinpoint when or why they start craving drugs. Understanding how the brain initiates that overwhelming desire for drugs is essential to treating addiction," she added. Dr Childress believe that these results can improve drug treatment strategies.

"We have a brain hard-wired to appreciate rewards, and cocaine and other drugs of abuse latch onto this system, she said, "We are looking at the potential for new medications that reduce the brain's sensitivity to these conditioned drug cues and would give patients a fighting chance to manage their urges," she added.

The findings are published Jan. 30 in the journal PLoS ONE.


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