As anyone who’s tried to quit smoking will know, it can be tough to abstain when you see or smell a cigarette. Exposing people to cues like this without supplying the reward can curb addiction, say researchers, but only if memory of the addiction is retrieved first.
Yan-Xue Xue of Peking University in Beijing, and colleagues got people recovering from heroin addiction to retrieve the memory of their addiction by watching a video of the drug being used. They were then given “extinction” training — exposure to cues such as drug paraphernalia without being given the drug itself.
Participants were asked to rate their heroin craving before and after exposure to cues. Those who had extinction training 10 minutes after memory retrieval showed reduced craving when tested up to six months later. Craving was unaffected for those who didn’t undergo memory retrieval beforehand (Science).
“This was our hope,” says Daniela Schiller of Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, who was not involved in the work. It “shows that the method impacts a real-life craving.”
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