New research into the effects of cocaine on the brain by scientists at Cambridge University has discovered that the use of this drug results in the accumulation of iron in the brain.

This may sound like a reasonably useless fact and one that pales into insignificance against the other long term effects of this powerful substances such as stroke, heart attack and brain haemorrhage, however, this could have wide-ranging health implications and influence the way that addiction to this drug is treated.

Dr. Karen Ersche and her team published their findings in Translational Psychiatry at the end of February 2017. The study looked at the brains of 44 people addicted to cocaine as compared to 44 healthy control volunteers and found that the coke users had an excess of iron in a part of the brain called the globus pallidus. It was also discovered that the longer that people had been using the drug the more iron had built up providing conclusive evidence that cocaine somehow effects the body’s ability to regulate this important chemical element. How exactly this happens is as yet unclear.

Iron is an essential nutrient which effects the function of the body and it is well-known that deficiency or over exposure to this element has noticeable effects on human health. This chemical element is important in absorption, metabolism, and a range of different physiological processes including oxygen transport, DNA synthesis, and electron transport. For example, too much iron can cause the death of neurons in the brain and too little can hinder dopamine synthesis.

“Given the important role that iron plays in both health and disease, iron metabolism is normally tightly regulated. Long-term cocaine use, however, seems to disrupt this regulation, which may cause significant harm.” said Dr Ersche, “Iron is used to produce red blood cells, which help store and carry oxygen in the blood. So, iron deficiency in the blood means that organs and tissues may not get as much oxygen as they need. On the other hand, we know that excessive iron in the brain is associated with cell death, which is what we frequently see in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease.”

The study’s authors says there is no conclusive proof, in their research, that cocaine addiction is a precursor to these conditions since degenerative brain diseases often feature the accrual of iron in other parts of the brain not currently understood to be effected by cocaine.

The next stage of this research is to track down precisely how the mechanism between cocaine and iron works and then investigate how to reverse this build up. This could be a significant breakthrough for the treatment of addiction to this drug.

The Recovery Revolution

Technology is currently playing an important role in the recovery revolution and while it is no replacement for seeking proper and effective treatment it can provide invaluable supplementary support.

Scrolling, tweeting, posting and video chatting are things we do today like walking, talking and breathing and there are apps for everything from diets and dating to food delivery and stopping smoking. It is no real surprise that that recovery community has embraced this with open arms: communication is after all one of the most powerful weapons in the recovering addict’s arsenal against the disease of addiction.

The Alcoholics Anonymous “Big Book” is available in the iTunes store and a range of 12 step meetings are held in chat rooms or over Skype. Furthermore, an app called Sober Grid helps patients find immediate support based in their current location and other apps provide motivational messages to users or give a list of questions to help take ‘spot inventories’ and provide a assortment of morning meditations. Some really fancy pants apps even use the video functions on phones and computers to connect patients and physicians instantly.

Another fantastic new app Squirrel Recovery, developed at Ohio State University, gives people the opportunity to generate their own support groups exclusively based in a digital world. Members can check in on each other’s welfare and if someone is feeling at risk or having a bad day, their peers can offer instant support.

The age of technology is here and growing side by side with the age of recovery, meaning that it really doesn’t matter how far you live from the treatment centre you attended or from a large group of recovering beings, you can stay plugged in to an indispensable system of support.

It is not just the smart phone that is delivering modern panaceas to the age old disease of addiction. A controversial therapy known as Neurofeedback is currently being developed to change the way an addict’s brain craves drugs or booze. This uses electrodes, laptops and special software to let doctors read the patient’s brainwaves and make decisions based on what they see. When the patient responds positively to a set of images the doctors will reward them with more positive reinforcement and it is believed that over a period of time the patient’s brains are taught to crave these rewards instead drugs and alcohol.

Other computer programs based on the Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, one of the currently recognised best practice methods of treating addiction are also being developed. These seek to change the patterns of thought that feed people’s addictions and assist addicts to change their attitudes and behaviours towards chemical substances.

Researchers at the Virginia Institute of Technology have spent a number of years working on a computer program that not only help addicts learn how to beat their addiction but also teach them about the disease over time. The programs relay the basic information, giving addiction counsellors and therapist more freedom to concentrate on the needs of the individual.

And of course there are some truly flashy Sci-Fi ideas being researched involving virtual reality technology and gene therapy but it will probably be a few years yet until these come to fruition, if they ever do. And as intriguing and attractive as this is – addicts love a quick fix with little effort – there remains a well-researched, evidence based way of treating addiction and alcoholism that has been serving addicts and alcoholics for many years.

Rave it up

A glamourous new venue in Miami is offering the opportunity to go for a sober bounce before work. Daybreaker, the early morning dance party based in Brooklyn, debuted at LIV nightclub this month to an appreciative crowd.

The sober clubbing insurgency continues to grow with vast appeal and over 4,000 emails were received by the co-founders of Daybreaker asking them to open in South Florida. The line-up for the launch included yoga with “rock star yogi” Pablo Lucero from 6-7am, and the signature dance party from 7-9am with disc’s being spun by DJ Alyx Ande, finishing just in time for clubbers to head to work.

There is no booze just coffee and fresh juice and instead of ingesting a choice assortment of party-going chemicals, ravers sample a delicious range of breakfast items. In the past Daybreaker has even turned down sponsorship from energy drinks saying that this goes against their ethos.

“We are definitely the alternative at the moment, with the goal of making morning life and sober dancing a new normal,” Radha Agrawal, the co-founder of this sober dance conglomerate, told the Miami New Times.  “We play deep house, soul house, funk house, disco house — anything that is happy, nothing dark or angry,” Agrawal said.

The idea is for people to start the day on the right foot with joy and mindfulness while stimulating the natural release of endorphins, serotonin and all those natural feel-good chemicals.

Fellow co-founder, Matthew Brimer told NBC News last year: “We want to take out all the bad stuff associated with clubbing: the drinking and self-destructive behaviour and mean bouncers, and just bring people together. There’s no guilt whatsoever here. You can tell your grandmother about Daybreaker.”

If you have a problem with drugs and alcohol and want to do something about it call one of our experts at the Hader Clinic today for a free, no obligation consultation.