Study uncovers mechanism underlying addicts’ responses to certain locations

By Staff Writer

It has long been known that returning to certain places that have come to be associated with drug use may trigger relapses in individuals who are trying to eliminate their addiction through substance abuse treatment. Now, a new study may help shed some light on the mechanisms behind this process.

Researchers from the University of Alberta found that when dopamine is released in response to drug use, it stimulates cells in the brain that form memories that are specific to the location. These memories become associated with the pleasurable response created by dopamine. Similar processes may underlie some forms of obesity.

“You can find the fridge and you know there’s good stuff in there, so you can find it in your sleep, and people do,” said Bill Colmers, who led the investigation. “So there’s this whole reward aspect to place that we’ve been able to unravel.”

He added that understanding this particular biological response to external stimuli may help doctors develop more effective substance abuse treatment programs that improve addicts’ chances of overcoming their dependency.