In what seems like something directly from a science fiction film, a respected Cambridge University professor believes that a safe memory wiping process could be developed to aid in addiction recovery. Professor Barry Everitt told the Federation of European Neuroscience Societies (FENS) at a recent gathering that his research into memory plasticity could provide a major breakthrough in preventing relapse among recovering addicts.
Everitt’s research involved lab rats injected with certain chemical substances that inhibited adaptive memory formation. He believes that the process could be adapted to the human brain in a way that would reduce cravings during withdrawal and after rehabilitative therapy is complete. Determining the drugs to be used and how these would be administered is still a long way off.
Professor Everitt’s theory is based on interrupting brain chemicals responsible for creating emotional arousal and feelings of anxiety and distress. The therapy would not affect episodic memory. In other words, a properly administered therapy would allow the user to remember that he or she took drugs without remembering what it felt like.
The research done to date has been divided into two categories. In one study, Everitt successively blocked the brain chemical linked to learning and memory, thus reducing the lab rat’s tendencies to maladaptive behaviour. In another study, they were able to reduce memory of drug use by manipulating a specific gene.
While the therapy does seem to show some promise for addiction recovery, there are a number of legitimate concerns that come along with it. At the top of the list are concerns over the ethical implications of tampering with an individual’s memory. It could lead to all sorts of unintended consequences.
Treatment in the Wrong Hands
Let us assume for one moment that Professor Everitt’s theory is proven true, leading to a variety of drug therapies that can aid in addiction recovery. It is not a stretch to assume that the same therapies can be used to treat certain types of criminals possessing a tendency to behave in ways society finds unacceptable. Sexual predators would be among those that come to mind. Will we find ourselves wiping away certain memories in order to control these kinds of people? It is not hard to imagine.
If that happens, there is a real possibility that we will be starting down a very slippery slope in which memory becomes the domain of bureaucrats and the doctors who work for them. It is very scary stuff when you start thinking about the implications of wiping a person’s memory. In theory, we could completely wipe out certain portions of an individual’s memory only to rebuild it in ways that suit us.
Successful Treatment Now Available
There is no telling what will happen with Professor Everitt’s research down the road. Regardless, there are now very effective treatments in place for those dealing with drugs and alcohol. Treatments include medically supervised detox, a full compendium of psychotherapeutic treatments, and counselling services by way of professional counsellors, charities, and support groups.
Yes, recovery in its current form is a long and difficult process. However, nothing worth achieving can be completed overnight, even interventions will not be completely successful if used solely as a single medium for recovery. Any success realised by a memory wiping therapy will still have to be complemented by behavioural changes in the life of the recovering addict. At the end of the day, it is only a change in behaviour that promises long-term recovery.
Here at Addiction Helper, we can come alongside to help you get the treatment you need. We work with addicts and their families all across the UK, providing a bridge between them and the treatment providers capable of helping them recover.
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