One of the hardest addictions to treat is a cocaine addiction because of the cravings that the user experiences when the effects of the drug wear off. With such intense short highs and long crashing comedowns, it is common for cocaine users to continue abusing the drug to prolong the effects. However, doing so often causes a cocaine addiction to develop.

While it is possible to treat a cocaine addiction, the fact that recovering addicts will experience cravings sporadically for a long time afterwards means that the relapse rate for this illness is quite high. Nevertheless, scientists are constantly working on a cure and have now revealed that they have genetically engineered mice to resist the lure of the drug.

In the Genes

Scientists have manipulated the mice to have higher levels of protein in their brains, meaning that they do not develop a cocaine addiction. They now believe that drug addiction is in the genes and not the result of poor decision making. The researchers also now believe that this discovery will provide an effective method for treating addiction going forward and will help doctors to predict those who are prone to drug abuse and addiction.

Lead author Dr Shernaz Bamji said, “Addiction is more a matter of biology and biochemistry as opposed to someone who is weak-willed and making bad judgements.”

Strengthening Synapses

In the brain, there are gaps between the neurones called synapses. It is these synapses that electrical impulses have to travel for a person to take an action. During the study, scientists created mice with higher levels of cadherin, which is a protein that strengthens these synapses. They found that the cadherin in the brains of addicts tends to be mutated, and it is this that can lead to addiction.

Dr Bamji said, “Addiction is learning gone haywire, and we want to regulate the strength of these synapses in the brain.”

The team of scientists wanted to eliminate addictive behaviour in the mice by changing the adhesion proteins in their brains. Initially, Dr Bamji thought that by adding extra cadherin in the reward circuit of the mice’s brains, the animals would become more likely to develop a cocaine addiction. However, the team found out that this had the opposite effect. What they found when they analysed the brain tissue of the mice was that the extra protein actually stopped a specific neurochemical receptor from operating.

Dr Bamji said, “We put the mice in a cage with three distinct chambers – each one had different patterns on the wall and a different feel on the floor.”


During the study, the team of scientists injected the mice with cocaine for four days. Dr Bamji said, “Normal mice gravitate towards the chamber where they received the drug as they keep looking for that high that they associate with that compartment. The mice with extra glue in their brains [cadherin] didn’t favour that chamber – either they were not interested in that high, or they did not remember it. When you add cadherin, you prevent the removal of normal receptors. It’s like a traffic jam.”

Graduate student and co-lead author Andrea Globa, added, “By preventing the synapses from strengthening, we prevented the mutant mice from ‘learning’ the memory of cocaine, and thus prevented them from becoming addicted.”

New Treatment for Cocaine Addiction

Dr Bamji is hoping that their discovery may help when it comes to predicting those vulnerable to drug addiction in the future. She said, “Drug addicts want to stop and don’t want to be in this position. There is no magic pill that can prevent people getting addicted to drugs.”

In terms of using this discovery to help prevent cocaine addiction in individuals, Dr Bamji added, “Ideally, we would need to find a molecule that blocks formation of a memory of a drug-induced high, while not interfering with the ability to remember important things”.

Overcoming Addiction with Professional Help

Currently, there is no cure for cocaine addiction, but there are plenty of ways in which those affected can recover. For those with a physical dependence on the drug, detoxification is usually required. During this process, the addict is separated from the drug in order to break the physical bond.

Detoxing from cocaine can be unpleasant due to the withdrawal symptoms, and doing this without medical supervision often leads to a return to drug use. Nonetheless, in a supervised facility, withdrawal symptoms can be eased, and the entire process will be safer and more comfortable.

Once the detox is complete, the addict will need to undergo a programme of rehabilitation in order to learn how to deal with triggers and cravings in the future.

Here at Liberty House Clinic, we have experience in helping individuals to overcome all types of addiction, including cocaine addiction. If you would like more information on our programmes, please do not hesitate to get in touch with us today.

Source: Mutant mice are able to RESIST the lure of cocaine: Breakthrough could help treat drug addiction in humans (Daily Mail)