Preliminary 2018 data from the Centers for Disease Control show a slight decline in drug overdose deaths.1 In the view of many experts, increased availability and use of Naloxone, education, and also increased access to Medication for Addiction Treatments (MAT) contributed to this decline.2 However, opioid use disorders and drug overdose rates remain extremely high nationally. Moreover, decreasing overdoses from prescription misuse and heroin should not distract from rising importation, misuse, and overdoses due to fentanyl, methamphetamine, and cocaine.3 With limited treatment options available for these substance use disorders, researchers are working to create novel approaches, using all technologies available, to prevent, treat, and improve the lives of patients and families. In a number of studies and trials, Tom Kosten and his colleagues at Baylor have looked at cocaine, methamphetamine, opioid and even fentanyl vaccines, showing promising results in reducing overdose, misuse, and treating substance use disorders.4
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Despite causing significant morbidity, mortality, and consequences relative to many other substance use disorders, alcoholism remains understudied in key respects. Some research has discovered certain brain pathways and structures linked to incentive cycles and reward-seeking behavior, but these findings have not necessarily been translated into treatment improvements. We still really do not understand why so many people have had a drink or drink regularly and do not have problems, or specifically addressed why 15% of people who consume alcohol struggle with loss of control-compulsive alcohol use in their behavior. To better understand what might cause people to move from controlled to uncontrolled alcohol use, researchers at Linköping University, the University of Gothenburg, and the University of Texas studied the rates at which rats seemed to prefer to self-administer alcohol or the sweetener saccharin.
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The physiological cravings that accompany addiction, along with memory cues and environment triggers specific to each patient can cause a recurrence of use or relapse. As such, effective treatment needs to address a person’s behavioral health and help them learn how to cope with stress and environmental triggers.
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Alcohol use is very prevalent among Americans - more than half of U.S. adults drank last month - and alcohol is the third leading cause of preventable death after tobacco and poor diet/physical inactivity.1,2 When coupled with prescription opioid use, drinking becomes especially dangerous.3 Women are at high-risk of experiencing these adverse health effects, which worsen with age. A recent study illuminates the repercussions of concurrent alcohol and prescription opioid use in older women.