Anxiety Drug Addiction Explained by New Research

BlogArticlesAnxiety Drug Addiction Explained by New Research

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New research explains how addiction to prescription anxiety medication works, and may lead to development non-addictive versions of the drugs.

Scientists from the US and Switzerland have discovered how anxiety medications, such benzodiazepine drugs as Ativan, Xanax, and Valium, work in the brain. As it turns out, the drugs use the same reward pathways as heroin and cannabis—pathways that may lead to addiction.

The calming effects of benzos are due to an increased activity of the neurotransmitter GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid). This in turn activates dopamine, the ‘gratification hormone’, resulting in a reward pathway in the brain.

Reward pathways are both naturally occurring and already exist in the brain. They are an evolutionary mechanism that was essential to our survival. Their main function is to make us feel pleasure when we engage in behaviours central to survival—such as eating or sex.

Opioids, such as heroin, and cannabis work in the same fashion. And dopamine, as we know from new research earlier this month, is directly linked to a propensity for addiction.

Researchers behind the study, published in the journal Nature, say these findings may lead to non-addictive alternative benzodiazepines. Benzos work by binding to a specific part of the GABA, the alpha 1 sub-unit of GABA type A receptor according to scientists. Developing similar drugs that bind to a different part of the GABA may offer the same benefits and calming-effects without the addictive side effects.

Drug companies for quite some time have been trying to develop a new generation of benzos with very little success. This, however, could be the breakthrough needed.

Source: Reuters

Anxiety Drug Addiction Explained by New Research