Helping the Truly Addicted – The Science of Drug Cravings

Employers dealing with drug addiction in the workplace know it is a Workplace Drug Testingcomplicated condition that is not easily resolved. One of the issues connected with addiction is drug cravings. Even when a person is able to quit taking drugs, the cravings can continue. Though medical researchers knew that the cravings originate in the brain, it is only recently that they were able to prove addiction can be blocked.

Workplace drug testing is a critical component of a drug free workplace. However, the truly addicted are dealing with a host of triggers, even if they are not currently testing positive for drug use. The source of cravings is found in the dopamine produced in the brain when drugs are used over and over again. An employee who is addicted eventually gets to the point where taking drugs is not necessary for the brain to respond with dopamine. Just thinking about drugs or experiencing a situation that reminds a person of drugs can trigger a release. In other words, cravings can be triggered by a number of cues that include seeing ordinary items used in the past as drug-taking or drug-making paraphernalia, participating in social events like office parties, seeing someone take medications, and so on. These are all triggers that exist in the workplace and can unintentionally prompt addictive behaviours.

This explains the importance of random drug and alcohol testing that includes all departments in the business. Addiction knows no boundaries. It also seems to be amplified in some addicts. Up to this point, intervention has relied mostly on counselling and behavioural change therapies, but relapse is common because of the powerful call of cravings.

Medical Research Brings Good News

Teaching the truly addicted how to manage cravings is not easy but it is necessary. Employers can help by offering EAP programs that provide essential support and helping the workers access counselling services. However, there is good news concerning addiction treatment. Medical researchers recently experienced a breakthrough by discovering a way to block heroin and morphine addiction. A team of medical researchers from the University of Adelaide and the University of Colorado developed a drug called (+)-naloxone that targets the immune system of the brain rather than neurotransmitters. The importance of this research is the fact that it is possible to block the immune system rather than the central nervous system, both of which play roles in addiction.1 Besides blocking cravings for opioids, the drug also reduces pain.

When dopamine is produced in the brain, the addict feels ‘rewarded’ and everyone likes rewards. The drug (+)-naloxone prevents the dopamine reaction and the subsequent feelings of reward. One of the important findings coming out of this research is that addiction is not just related to the brain wiring. In this particular case, addiction is connected to the immune-receptor Toll-Like receptor 4, which is found to play a role in the drug reward connected to opioids. This kind of information is important for treating anyone taking opioids for their pain killing effects.2

Hope for Future Treatments

It is expected that this recent research will eventually lead to new drugs for managing pain and addiction. People with chronic pain could conceivably use a drug that does not lead to addiction like the current opioids. Opioid addiction is a growing problem in Australia, which means it is a growing problem for employers. Unfortunately, any new drugs that might come out of this research are a long way from reaching market. It will take up to two years to complete the clinical trials.

CMM Technology (http://www.cmm.com.au/) has a wide range of drug and alcohol testing equipment designed for the workplace. A team of professionals can also offer expert guidance in policy development.

References

1 University of Adelaide (2012, August 14). Scientists can now block heroin, morphine addiction. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 4, 2012, from http://www.sciencedaily.com¬/releases/2012/08/120814213246.htm

2 Researchers make heroin addiction breakthrough. (2012, August 16). Retrieved from ABC News – Australia: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-08-15/researchers-make-heroin-addiction-breakthrough/4199096

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