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Quitting "Cold Turkey" Harms the Brain, Animal Study

Update Date: Nov 08, 2013 12:02 PM EST

Quitting drugs "cold turkey" can trigger mental decline, according to a new study.

A new animal study reveals that quitting drugs without treatment can damage the brain.

Researchers said the latest findings suggest that managing drug withdrawal could promote a healthier mental state in addicts.

"Over time, drug-abusing individuals often develop mental disorders," Italo Mocchetti, PhD, a professor of neuroscience, said in a news release. "It's been thought that drug abuse itself contributes to mental decline, but our findings suggest that 'quitting cold turkey' can also lead to damage."

In the study, researchers treated animals with morphine or allowed them to undergo withdrawal by stopping the treatment. Afterwards, they measured levels of the harmful pro-inflammatory cytokines, which can promote damage and cell death, and of the protein CCL5, which has numerous protective effects in the brain.

"Interestingly, we found that treating the addicted animals with morphine both increased the protective CCL5 protein while decreasing pro-inflammatory cytokines, suggesting a beneficial effect," Mocchetti said.

On the other hand, animals in the withdrawal group showed decreased levels of CCL5 and increased levels of the damaging cytokines.

"From these findings, it appears that morphine withdrawal may be a causative factor that leads to mental decline, presenting an important avenue for research in how we can better help people who are trying to quit using drugs," Mocchetti concluded.

The findings are published in the journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity.

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