Could There Really Be A Cure For Cokeheads?


Cocaine, the party drug of the 1980s, never went away, even more than two decades later. This wake-me-up stimulant is still used by millions of people and it’s more than just a recreational drug. Users really get hooked on it, even if they think they can just party with the white powder a couple of times. Cocaine is highly addictive. It’s right up there with heroin and cocaine’s more deviant cousin, crack cocaine.

So far, no one has been able to crack the problem of a medical treatment for cocaine addiction. Heroin addicts have Buprenorphine and Naltrexone. Alcoholics have Antabuse and Campral. What’s a poor cokehead to do? Just slog it out in rehab with no medication? Never fear, researchers are close to a vaccine, and maybe even an antidote, for cocaine addiction.

Vaccine Prevents Mice from Getting High

Vaccines have long been used to prevent us from getting infections. The idea is to trigger the immune system to act against a particular virus or bacterium. The same idea is being applied to cocaine. A recent study from the Scripps Research Institute demonstrated that a vaccine used in mice could trigger the animals’ immune systems to attack cocaine. The result? When the mouse is administered a dose of cocaine, its immune system destroys the compound before it can get to the brain and get the animal high. If an addict gets no high from cocaine, he will have no reason to take it. Of course, the addict would have to agree to get vaccinated, but if he did the medication could prevent him from relapsing.

This was not the first research team or the first project to work on a vaccine against cocaine, but earlier efforts weren’t very effective. The Scripps team used a protein from bacteria, called flagellin, to help trigger the immune system and put it on the attack against cocaine. Flagellin has been used in other medical vaccines, and so far shows the most promise for a vaccine that targets a drug.

What About an Antidote?

Another research group, this one from the University of Copenhagen, thinks it has found the key to creating a cocaine antidote. The key lies in dopamine transporters in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is related to feelings of pleasure. It is a reward chemical that motivates us to repeat behaviors, like taking cocaine. Dopamine transporters are like vacuums for the neurotransmitter. When stimulated, they clean up excess dopamine. Cocaine inhibits the transporters, which results in a flood of the feel-good chemical.

The Danish researchers recently reported on some interesting discoveries about the structure of the dopamine transporter and how inhibitors act on it. They found other compounds that, like cocaine, inhibit the transporter. However, these other inhibitors attached to the transporter in a closed form. The result was that they had the opposite effect of cocaine and produced no flood of dopamine. With these discoveries, the researchers are certain they can come up with a new inhibitor drug that could counteract cocaine and help addicts avoid relapsing. The overall effect would be similar to a cocaine vaccine in that the drug user would no longer get a high from cocaine if they took the antidote.

The latest cocaine research is exciting, but it is important to understand there is no cure for any addiction. If you’re hooked on snorting cocaine, you need still have to go through all the therapy and group support that will help you work out your inner demons. But if you could supplement that with a vaccine or an antidote, you could have a really useful took for staying clean.

2018-08-23T06:38:35+00:00April 29, 2015|Drug Addiction, Substance Abuse, The Control Center|

AARP Abusers?

We tend to think of problem drinking as a problem for the young, or the middle aged and depressed, but alcohol abuse doesn’t believe in age discrimination. Neither does drug abuse. Worrying statistics show that older Americans are drinking and abusing illicit drugs at record rates. Is it loneliness? A feeling of purposelessness after retirement? The loss of friends or a spouse? Turns out, it’s all pretty complicated, but if you notice grandma or grandpa going through bottles of tequila or hoarding prescription pills, you might need to intervene.



Retired Americans and Substance Abuse

Statistics show very clearly that there is an issue with older Americans and substance abuse. Even when you consider the fact that the overall number of retirees is growing thanks to the size of the Baby Boomer generation, there are a lot of seniors hitting the bottle. About three million meet the criteria for alcohol abuse and experts expect that number to double by 2020.

As for drug abuse, the number of adults over the age of 50 abusing illicit substances doubled from 2002 to 2013. A common factor among older adults struggling with substance abuse is being retired. It makes sense that such a big life transition could lead many adults to seek comfort in drugs and alcohol, but researchers have found that the numbers can’t be explained so simply.


It’s not Just Retirement

Recent research from faculty at Tel Aviv University and Cornell University, funded by the National Institutes of Health, has uncovered some interesting and more complex explanations for the increasing number of older Americans turning to drugs and alcohol. The researchers used a phone-based survey and collected answers from 1,200 adults between the ages of 52 and 75.

The data definitely show that retirement is part of the problem. The transition from working for thirty or more years and being useful and needed, to not working can be difficult. Not all workers have prepared adequately for this transition and face feelings of having no purpose, of not being needed, and of not having anything useful to do. Psychologically, the transition is tough.

What the researchers found among all the survey responses was that the psychological transition from work to no work was not the simple answer to the problem of elder substance abuse. Whether a retiree would become a substance abuser had more to do with circumstances and attitudes surrounding retirement than the lack of work itself. For instance, those that had not prepared financially were more likely to take to drinking or drug abuse. Another issue was marital discord. Retirement of one spouse can put a strain on the relationship. Deaths of close friends and spouses also contributed to substance abuse.

The reasons for and the conditions of retirement were also important in determining how well individuals coped and whether they turned to substance abuse. The group that had the highest rates of substance abuse included those seniors that had retired earlier than they wanted to out of fear that the companies for which they worked were going to fail. These people enjoyed their jobs and were not ready to stop working yet.


The Good News

All this sounds terribly depressing and sad, but there is good news. Even small interventions can make a difference. In fact, even the awareness that substance abuse is an issue for older Americans can lead to significant positive changes. This means you may need to have a talk with that senior you care about. It may be awkward, but if you want grandma to be happy and healthy, sit her down and have a chat about her lifestyle choices. Your intervention could make all the difference.

2018-08-23T06:40:21+00:00January 10, 2015|Health and Wellness, Substance Abuse|

Can Your Sleepless Teen Turn Into A Substance Abuser?

Sleepless Teen


Can Your Sleepless Teen Turn Into a Substance Abuser?

If you’re the parent of a teen, you have a lot of things to worry about. Will he fail math this semester? Will he get into college? Is that new friend of his a racist, or is it just me? How much your teen sleeps or doesn’t sleep might be low on your list of concerns, but there is new research that says you better prioritize it. If you know teens at all you know they don’t sleep enough. They stay up too late texting, or if you’re lucky, studying, and then they have to be to school by 7:30. How can they possibly be getting enough sleep? They’re not and they are at risk for substance abuse as a result.

The Problem of Sleep

Surveys and polls tell us what we already know: teenagers don’t get enough sleep. As much as 45 percent of young adults get too few hours of sleep each night. Even youngsters are struggling. Up to 27 percent of children and pre-teens are not sleeping enough either. Then there are the teens who may want to sleep, but have symptoms of insomnia. Ten percent of teens report having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep every night. You have probably heard that adults should aim for between six and eight hours of sleep every night. According to the National Sleep Foundation, teens should be getting more than nine hours every night.

Sleepiness Leads to Substance Abuse?

There are some pretty obvious consequences for your teenager when she doesn’t get enough sleep. Her memory and concentration at school suffer. Her mood becomes even more volatile than normal. She may eat too much or eat more junk food in her dazed and sleepy state. A new study has found that the results of poor sleep can be even more serious.

The research comes from psychologist Maria Wong and her colleagues at Idaho State University. They analyzed data from questionnaires and interviews conducted with over 6,000 adolescents who participated in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. The data were collected over three different time periods. The researchers looked for sleep problems and tiredness in one time period and substance abuse issues in the next time period. They controlled for any teens that were already abusing substances during the first period of data collection.

What the researchers found was that having sleep difficulties during the first period correlated significantly with problematic drinking and drug use in the second period of surveys. Those teens that didn’t sleep enough or had symptoms of insomnia were more likely to binge drink, drive while under the influence of alcohol, to be sexually active because of drinking and regret it later, and to use illicit drugs.

This study was not the first to make a connection between lack of sleep and later substance abuse, but it is important in a couple of ways. First, previous studies looked at kids in groups already at a high-risk for substance abuse, while this study included a nationally-representative sample. And, the current study included both insomnia and insufficient sleep, while previous work focused only on insomnia.

What Can Parents Do?

The results of the study are troubling, and yes, they give you yet another thing to worry about as a parent. The good news is that you can play an important role in teaching your teen about sleep and to have good sleep hygiene. Share and model good sleep hygiene like not using mobile devices before bed and setting a regular sleep schedule. If your teen shows signs of insomnia, consider seeing your pediatrician or a sleep specialist. You know how serious the consequences of inadequate sleep can be, so take steps now to make sure your teen is sleeping like a baby every night.

2018-08-23T06:42:05+00:00October 10, 2014|Health and Wellness, Substance Abuse, The Control Center|