Utne Blogs > Science and Technology

Taking Drugs to Fight Addiction

by Jake Mohan 

Tags: science and technology, research, addiction, alcoholism, drugs, Scientific American, This Magazine,


Therapy and 12-step groups are two of the most popular routes to recovery for people addicted to alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs. But some scientists are looking to pharmaceuticals in hopes of breaking the cycle of addiction.

Anti-stress pills are one drug that scientists believe could fight addiction to alcohol, Melinda Wenner reports for the Scientific American. Researchers at the National Institutes of Health and University College Lon­don administered a stress-reduction drug to highly anxious recovering alcoholics, which reduced their craving for a drink, especially in high-stress situations. The study didn’t prove whether stress medication could help alcoholics long-term, but represents another step forward in efforts to treat addiction with pharmaceuticals. 

A more radical drug therapy for addiction is being pioneered in Canada. Writing for This Magazine, Peter Tupper profiles a nonprofit rehabilitation facility in British Columbia called Iboga Therapy House, where addicts are administered ibogaine, a drug classified as Schedule I in the United States (meaning its in the same category as cannabis, heroin, and LSD). The extremely powerful drug induces “a dream-like state lasting anywhere from 24 to 36 hours,” during which patients are monitored by medical professionals. Ibogaine's main benefit seems to be relief from painful withdrawal symptoms, and many subjects report a near or total cessation of cravings after the treatment ends. Ibogaine is unregulated in Canada, and its questionable legality makes the drug’s efficacy difficult to track, but facilities like Iboga House appear to be part of a growing subfield of pharmaceutical addiction treatment.

Image by Dan4th, licensed by Creative Commons.