A hormone injection could help addicts of the future kick their habits.
Scientists at Imperial College London are working on a jab which they hope could help get rid of cravings for drugs, alcohol, cigarettes or food. The research project is looking at whether hormones which are naturally produced by the stomach and intestines could actually help combat addiction.
They are currently recruiting 90 volunteers to try out a six-hour infusion of hormones to see whether it will help them resist the urge to give in to their cravings. The research comes after it was discovered that overweight people experience pangs for food which are similar to the feelings experienced by smokers, alcoholics and drug addicts when they start needing their next fix.
Academics now believe that the answer to fighting addiction could lie in two hormones which successfully suppress appetite. They think glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) and ghrelin may help control parts of the brain which are linked to stress, addiction and reward.
The team of volunteers will include 30 overweight people, 30 ex-smokers and 30 recovering alcoholics. Those taking part in the test will either be given an infusion of hormones which are similar to GLP-1 and ghrelin or a placebo.
Once the volunteers have been given the infusion via a drip, their brains will be scanned. Their reactions will then be monitored as they are shown images of junk food, cigarettes and alcohol.
They will also be shown stressful pictures so researchers can monitor the effect the hormone has on stress and anxiety levels.
Research aims to develop new treatments to stop cravings
One of the research leaders, Dr Tony Goldstone, from Imperial College’s department of medicine, said the study would hopefully lead to new treatments for addicts. And while the research is initially focusing on former smokers, alcoholics and overweight people, the hormones may also be able to help those who are addicted to heroin, cocaine and other illegal substances.
Dr Goldstone said: “We are starting with these groups but there is a potential that it might be beneficial for other addictions as well.”
If the hormones are found to be successful in suppressing cravings, work will start on developing injections which could be taken regularly by people with addictions in the same way a diabetic injects themselves with insulin.
Dr Goldstone added: “It has the potential for helping people to stay off once they’ve stopped. For a couple of months about 40 per cent of people can manage to stop smoking, within a year it is six to eight per cent – the relapse rate is very large.
“Both these medicines have the potential, once someone has detoxified from alcohol or stopped smoking, to maybe help them stay off for longer.”
If the study is a success, a hormone jab could be developed for use within five years.
People who are concerned that someone they know may be battling an addiction can find out for sure with a drug and alcohol test. AlphaBiolabs offers testing services for local authorities, courts, employers and the general public so they can monitor an individual’s substance misuse and help them get the support they need to kick their habit.