Any heroin addict will tell you that the cravings for the drug are one of the hardest parts about getting clean. Oftentimes users feel the intense cravings within a few hours of their last dose. As the time gets greater in between doses the cravings become harder and harder to withstand, fueled by intense feelings caused by the beginning stages of opiate withdrawal. The medical community understands that in order to greatly reduce the number of people addicted to heroin, handling the cravings associated with the drug is vital.
Researchers from the University of Basel in Switzerland believe they may have come up with a solution to persistent cravings. Cortisol has been found to reduce cravings by helping to alleviate stress.
Stress is a major catalyst for heroin cravings. Cortisol, which is known as a “stress hormone”, works by making it more difficult for patients to recall certain types of memories. The researchers point out, that in the case of heroin addiction, stress is often caused by memories of the drug, fueling the desire to want to keep using heroin. When the memories are not at the forefront of a person’s mind the cravings are reduced since they’re not triggering the feelings associated with them. An experimentation using cortisol on heroin addicts showed that there was a 25% decrease in cravings. However, people who are addicted to smaller amounts of heroin seem to have a better chance of cortisol being beneficial for them.
Once the experiment was completed, it was evident to the researchers that there was some potential for using cortisol as part of a heroin addiction treatment. It is now up to researchers to take the investigation further to see how exactly it should be applied. “Whether the inhibitory effect of cortisol on the craving for heroin will also affect addiction-related behaviors of patients in their day-to-day lives is still unclear. The inhibitory effect of cortisol on addictive cravings might also have positive implications for nicotine, alcohol or gambling addiction,” commented Dr. Marc Walter, leader of the team of scientists on the cortisol experiment.
The results of the study were published in the journal Translational Psychiatry. Combining cortisol treatment along with other successful types of therapies could allow heroin addicts to live a life without the extreme cravings for heroin. At the very least, it could be useful in the early stages after detox as a form of medicinal intervention to help reduce the cravings so that treatment can have a stronger impact.