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The Connection Between Salt and Drug Addiction

Potato chip-lovers and pretzel addicts may soon understand drug addiction a little better. Scientists at Duke University Medical Center and in Melbourne, Australia have found a link between salt and drug addiction: both use the same parts of the brain to signal an appetite for and satisfaction of each need.

The study was conducted on mice to prove that salt appetite and substance abuse are controlled in the same region of the brain. This region is called the hypothalamus, and it tells the body when certain rhythms are off balance. For example, the need for water is controlled in this region: when a person is thirsty, it is because the hypothalamus realizes that the body needs water; a lack of thirst indicates the body has a sufficient water balance for optimal health.

The same is true of salt and drug addiction. A hunger for salty foods often indicates that the salt balance in the body is off center, and a subjective need for a drug is linked to the brain’s need for a substance that has become an addiction. In essence, the brain balances actual bodily needs and drug addictions in the same area.

For scientists, this is a huge breakthrough. Knowing where the brain processes drug addiction can aid scientists and treatment centers in finding optimal treatments for drug addictions. As of right now, many treatment centers operate on an abstinence only approach to addiction treatment. This new study, however, leads scientists and treatment centers to new approaches, like offering replacement therapies. For heroin addicts, this can mean replacing the heroin with methadone, a synthetic opioid sometimes used to lessen the effects of heroin withdrawal.   

Additionally, studying the region of the brain and the actual genes for each addiction can potentially help scientists and treatment centers find the perfect treatment for drug addiction. The medical research field is on the cusp of genetic breakthroughs, including gene therapy. It may only be a matter of time before scientists find the genes used in individual drug and alcohol addiction and treat the abuse with gene therapies.

The gene therapy process could also prove beneficial to those more prone to addiction. Drug addictions are not formed in every person who uses subtances. Many scientists believe this is because each person has an individual tolerance for certain addictions. Some people can try drugs and not get hooked while others become addicted immediately. Hopefully, more research into the genes behind addictions can help clear this up.

Another surprising portion of the study involved the timing of the satisfaction. When the scientists introduced salt into the mice after inducing a salt need, the genes that controlled the salt appetite were satisfied rather quickly. Within 10 minutes of drinking a salty solution, the mice were satisfied. This baffles the scientists because the timing is well before digestion is even possible.

Theories abound that the salt satisfaction must take effect quickly in the wild. Animals who stop to satisfy a sodium need cannot spend time waiting for digestion. If they were to stay in one spot too long, a predator may attack. Therefore, the body must signify salt satisfaction quickly through a dopamine release.

For substance abuse, the speed of satisfaction could explain why drugs seem to immediately satisfy the drug addict. It could also shed additional light on how treatment centers like Vista Taos Renewal Center in New Mexico can further help addicts who know that relief is rather immediate if they give in to their addiction. Battling addiction when the knowledge that the powerful feeling of relief is minutes away is a constant struggle for any addict, and the study findings should help lead scientists and treatment centers to better options and treatments for addicts.

Overall, knowing where drug addiction satisfaction is processed in the brain can help scientists and treatment centers discover new, more effective treatments, and further studying the timing of addiction relief can assist each party in developing the best drug treatment practices possible. Someday, maybe addicts could check in for gene therapy or medications, cutting recovery times dramatically and increasing the chance of low re-occurrence.

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