Imagine that you’re working on heroin addiction recovery—and you suddenly stop struggling with triggers. You simply don’t have them anymore. It’s because you’ve forgotten about all your past occasions of using heroin. Wouldn’t that be fantastic?
This speculation has been prompted by research published in August 2015 in Molecular Psychiatry, a medical journal, detailing the research performed by scientists based at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) in Florida. Their research involved studying mice addicted to methamphetamine, and the researchers found a way to eliminate their memories of past methamphetamine use. While this has not yet been tried on humans, the scientists theorize that triggers to use would be eliminated from their daily routines.
This new research was spun off from a study done in 2013, in which the scientists erased a protein called actin. One function of this protein is to provide structural support of memories within the brain. However, it also has other functions throughout the body, and the researchers realized that erasing the actin would be fatal to the person whose actin was targeted.
This new research describes that the same team of scientists has discovered a way to selectively target the actin. They are able to inject a substance called blebbistatin into a protein molecule called myosin II so that the actin cannot attach to the neuron that would allow the brain to recall specific drug memories.
The National Institute on Drug Addiction (NIDA) based on figures available a couple years ago reports that over 4 million Americans have tried heroin at least one time, and almost one-fourth of them will eventually become dependent on heroin. People in both methamphetamine and heroin addiction recovery have a tremendously high rate of relapse, and so the applications for this research are astounding. Imagine not having any triggers to use heroin because you don’t remember the last time you used it!
The Triggers of Heroin Addiction Recovery
When you begin heroin addiction recovery at a methadone treatment program, you benefit from attending individual or group counseling, and also from attending 12-step groups, because they are all methods of teaching you how to handle your triggers.
Triggers, for those not familiar with the term, are the actions that make us want to use the drugs we’ve been using. For a cigarette smoker, it might be a cup of coffee—you can’t have coffee without a cigarette. An alcoholic might run into an old drinking buddy while he’s doing Christmas shopping, and he immediately gets the urge to go to one of the bars where he and his old friend spent countless hours. For someone in heroin addiction recovery, the memory might be the first time they got high together. Just the sight of that person makes them want to use.
Sometimes triggers are much more obscure. Maybe the alcoholic’s buddy is wearing a baseball hat that brings back memories of attending a ballgame where they drank to oblivion—and now he wants to go to that bar, because the hat triggered the memory.
Is It Safe?
Memories are strange things, and these scientists in Florida are pretty excited about the idea that a single injection of blebbistatin can erase a subject’s memory of drug use for up to a month. That brings, of course, so many questions. Can the researcher guarantee that no other memories will be interrupted? What if the subject in heroin addiction recovery is reminded of past drug use by his buddy—hey, old man, remember last Spring when we were chasin’ the dragon—will he then regain his memories? If your memories are safely erased, will you have some warning before they return, so that you know you need another injection?
Some people might even wonder about its expanded potential for mind control. Does anybody remember an old Jim Carey movie from 2004, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind? In this flick, Carey’s girlfriend played by Kate Winslet had all her memories excised of her relationship with Carey. He decided to get back at her by doing the same thing, but when the mind control team came to his apartment to initiate the process, he wasn’t so sure he wanted to go through with it…
In the mice that were treated with the blebbistatin, their memories were erased for about a month, and none of their other memories were eliminated. There was no interference with their ability to form new memories, either. Presumably, if you’re in heroin addiction recovery, you would not remember the last time you got high, but if you relapsed you would be creating a new memory of using heroin.
A recap of the story in ScienceDaily.com suggests that the blebbistatin actually interrupts the brain’s ability to store the memory—it doesn’t technically erase the memory itself. The researchers remain excited about the possibilities that this therapy can block relapse potential. If you’ve gone to the tenth layer of hell because of your opiate addiction, it’s easy to embrace this as the next new modality for aiding heroin addiction recovery.
In the meantime, until this memory drug becomes available and we all know it’s safe, your best bet for heroin addiction recovery is to call your local methadone program, because right now it’s still the best and safest way to achieve recovery from opiates.