Curiosity – Curiosity may have killed the cat, but scientists think it may cure the addict. It’s a far out idea, but it happens to be true.

The brain’s innate interest in the new and different may help defeat the power of addictive drugs. Novelty could help break the vicious cycle of treatment and relapse, especially for the many addicts with novelty-craving, risk-taking personalities. This conclusion comes from controlled experiments in which novelty drew cocaine-treated rats away from the place they got cocaine.

Researchers Carmela Reichel and Rick Bevins trained rats to prefer one side of a large Plexiglas apparatus by injecting them with one of three different doses of cocaine before placing them in that side. The researchers alternated placing rats in one side or the other, injecting cocaine before placing them on one side, or injecting saline solution before placing them on the other. This simple procedure left the rats, when drug free and given a choice, significantly more likely to visit the side where they had felt the rewarding effects of cocaine.

In the next stage, for another eight days, the researchers tried to break the tie between drug and place by introducing novelty. Now, when rats were placed into the saline-paired compartment, half found something new there: a white sock, a little piece of PVC pipe, a plastic scouring pad or balled-up newspaper. These simple treasures might not mean much to a human addict, but they were intriguing for the addicted rats. The remaining rats were given the same bare compartment as before. When given a choice, the rat addicts voted for the novelty side over the side where they had received the cocaine.

These findings suggest that employing something new and intriguing could work with drug-free, recovering addicts who are mild but not heavy users. The human equivalent of new “toys,” such as scuba diving, mountain climbing, whitewater rafting and snow skiing, could work as a behavioral reward, and this kind of novelty does not involve medical treatment or side effects, and could be cheaper as well.

If you want (or need?) novelty, come find out what your favorite Dreamland hosts are thinking about right now (NOTE: Subscribers can still listen to this show). How? Join us in Nashville in June!

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