Brain Chemical Involved In Signaling Hunger May Also Trigger Drug Cravings

By Staff Writer

A chemical in the brain that signals feelings of hunger during times of starvation may also play a role in triggering drug seeking behavior, according to a new study from Canadian researchers. The findings may have major implications for the relapse prevention efforts of opiate addicts and other drug abusers.

Remaining abstinent following successful drug rehab treatment is among the greatest challenges for recovering addicts. Estimates have shown a sizable percentage of recovered drug abusers fall back into their old habits. However, the researchers believe that their findings could help improve the number of individuals who are able to avoid relapse.

For the study, researchers with the Natural Science and Engineering Council of Canada trained a group of mice to push a lever that would administer heroin. When the mice were denied food, they pushed the lever more frequently.

However, the researchers found that by chemically blocking a molecule in the brain known as NPY, which is a biological signal of hunger, the mice stopped seeking heroin, even during periods of being denied food.

The researchers believe that their findings could lead to the development of new medications that enhance the relapse prevention efforts of recovering drug addicts.