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ADHD Drug May Cure Cocaine Addiction

Update Date: Jun 27, 2013 04:11 PM EDT

Besides helping people with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder concentrate, new research reveals that Ritalin may also help treat addiction in people who use cocaine.

A new study published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry reveals that a single dose of methylphenidate, a stimulant drug prescribed to treat ADHD, changed connectivity in certain brain circuits responsible for self-control and craving among cocaine-addicted individuals. Researchers said the latest findings might also apply to other types of addictions.

Previous research revealed that oral methylphenidate helped boost cognitive function in cocaine users.  Past studies found that methylphenidate helped improve brain function in cocaine addicts performing specific cognitive tasks like ignoring emotionally distracting words and resolving a cognitive conflict.

Both methylphenidate and cocaine increase dopamine and norepinephrine activity in the brain. But because orally administered methylphenidate takes a signficantly longer to reach peak effect, it has lower potential for abuse. Researchers explain that by extending dopamine's action, the drug can enhance signaling to improve several cognitive functions, including information processing and attention.

"Orally administered methylphenidate increases dopamine in the brain, similar to cocaine, but without the strong addictive properties," Rita Goldstein, PhD, Professor of Psychiatry at Mount Sinai, who led the research while at Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) in New York, said in a statement.

"We wanted to determine whether such substitutive properties, which are helpful in other replacement therapies such as using nicotine gum instead of smoking cigarettes or methadone instead of heroin, would play a role in enhancing brain connectivity between regions of potential importance for intervention in cocaine addiction," Goldstein explained.

Goldstein and her team studied 18 cocaine-addicted individuals who were randomly selected to receive an oral dose of methylphenidate or placebo.  Researcher used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure the strength of connectivity in particular brain circuits linked to addiction before and during peak drug effects.  Researchers also determined each participant's severity of addiction to see if level of addiction had any effect on the results.

The findings revealed that methylphenidate decreased connectivity between areas of the brain that have previously been linked to the formation of habits, including compulsive drug seeking and craving. Brain scans also revealed that methylphenidate normalized the nerve pathways that are disrupted in cocaine addiction and strengthened connectivity between several brain regions involved in regulating emotions and exerting control over behaviors

"The benefits of methylphenidate were present after only one dose, indicating that this drug has significant potential as a treatment add-on for addiction to cocaine and possibly other stimulants," Goldstein concluded. "This is a preliminary study, but the findings are exciting and warrant further exploration, particularly in conjunction with cognitive behavioral therapy or cognitive remediation."

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