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Can Ritalin Help Treat Cocaine Addiction?

Cocaine is an extremely dangerous and potentially deadly drug. Cocaine use prompted almost 423,000 emergency room visits in 2009 – more than marijuana, heroin, and other stimulants.

As of 2014, an estimated 800,000 Americans over the age of 12 are thought to be addicted to the toxic white powder. Since breaking the cycle of cocaine addiction is a long uphill battle for most, researchers are striving to develop new and alternative medication-assisted therapies.

Current research in the fight against cocaine addiction suggests the answer might lie in the administration of another stimulant: Ritalin.

A Stimulant for a Stimulant?

A single dose of Ritalin… can help to “normalize” or rebalance nerve pathways within the brain that are damaged by cocaine abuse.Published in the latest issue of JAMA Psychiatry, researchers from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai present a detailed imaging study to show how a single dose of Ritalin, which is classically used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), can help to “normalize” or rebalance nerve pathways within the brain that are damaged by cocaine abuse.

For the Mount Sinai research study, 18 cocaine addicts were evaluated. Each was randomly given a single oral dose of Ritalin or a sugar pill for placebo. Afterward, the participants were subjected to MRI brain scans to measure the strength of connectivity in brain circuits known to be affected by addiction.

Previous Research
Using Ritalin to combat cocaine addiction is not a new idea. In fact, the theory has been put to the test several times in the past.
A previous research study showed Ritalin improves the brain function of cocaine users, helping them to successfully perform cognitive tasks. While it was an impressive breakthrough, the study fell short of using Ritalin for the treatment of cocaine addiction.

The brain scans showed impressive proof, detailing decreased connectivity in the areas of the brain where habits, compulsive drug seeking, and craving are all formed. The scans also showed that one single dose of Ritalin was able to strengthen connectivity between multiple areas of the brain that regulate emotion and behavior control – the very connections that are known to be damaged by cocaine addiction.

Should Recovering Addicts Take Ritalin?

For all the good Ritalin seems to do when used to treat cocaine addiction, it’s important to remember that this ADHD drug is also addictive and widely abused. Some experts worry about the risk of trading one addiction for another. Luckily, with the Mount Sinai research study, the risk of developing Ritalin dependence is miniscule, as results are seen from the first dose. That means subsequent doses would most likely be kept to a minimum, preventing a developed dependence on the drug.

In a press release, Rita Goldstein, Professor of Psychiatry at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, said, “Orally administered Ritalin increases dopamine in the brain, similar to cocaine, but without the strong addictive properties.”

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