Researchers are continually seeking new, effective treatments – both therapeutic and pharmacological therapies – that will augment current treatment options, prevent the development of addiction altogether, or become the proverbial magic bullet to wipe out addiction entirely.
According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, a recent study published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology has found that an experimental drug called ABT-436 may be a promising addition to the current repertoire of effective addiction treatments.
Specifically, ABT-436 has shown to target a chemical in the brain that regulates circuits connected to emotional response. The drug was found to be helpful for people in recovery from addiction to alcohol and nicotine. The 12-week study from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) included 144 participants who were living with an alcohol use disorder; the men routinely drank an average of 35 drinks per week and the women drank about 28 drinks each week.
The participants who were given ABT-436 experienced fewer drinking days as compared to participants who were given a placebo. They also cut down on smoking as well. Additionally, the participants who experienced high levels of stress appeared to respond particularly well to the drug, experiencing a lower frequency in drinking as well as fewer heavy drinking days.
The problem? The difference between the experience of the placebo group and the group that took ABT-436, though present, was not statistically significant.
The point of significance is that the drug appears to target the area of the brain that is linked to both stress and withdrawal, since participants who took the drug experienced less drinking, smoking, and stress.
Megan Ryan was the first author of the study. She said: “Our findings suggest that future studies of ABT-436 should focus on populations of people with [alcohol use disorder] who also report high levels of stress.”
Stress and Recovery from Addiction
What makes ABT-436 so interesting is that stress reduction is one of the major foci in drug addiction treatment. High levels of stress for any reason can trigger cravings for drugs and alcohol that can feel overwhelming if there are no other coping mechanisms available to the individual. It is a problem that can strike at any time in recovery but is especially prevalent in early sobriety. Though medication is not an ideal fix for stress relief as a long-term solution, its potential for use in the first few weeks of recovery when stress levels tend to run high, and before the individual can confidently lay claim to new coping tools, may be of huge benefit.
Stress Management Tools in Recovery
ABT-436 has many more clinical studies in its future before it can be approved for use, but in the meantime, there are a number of measures you can take to lower your overall stress levels as well as manage periods of high-level acute stress.
Some options include:
- Yoga: Regular yoga practice that incorporates strength poses as well as breath control can provide a hybrid of meditation and gentle exercise that reduces stress in recovery and may contribute to a decrease in cravings. If you prefer, you can opt to take part in hot yoga and work up a sweat, or you can choose a more spiritual version of yoga that incorporates mantras and chanting.
- Acupuncture: The insertion of long, thin needles into the top layers of skin is a painless process. For centuries, this practice has been believed to be effective in clearing blockages of energy at different points in the body that correspond to various mental and physical health problems. Points in the ears are associated with addiction; other points correspond to depression, anxiety, and other common mental health disorders that frequently co-occur with substance use disorders.
- Meditation and breath control: Clearing the mind, deep breathing, and other forms of breath control can be effective in helping to lower stress almost immediately. With regular practice, meditation may even improve social anxiety, anxiety in general, depression, attention, and focus, and assist in maintaining sobriety.
- Cardiovascular exercise: Whether you choose to go for a brisk walk, roller skate, jog or run, or go for a swim, regularly engaging in exercise that elevates your heart rate can help to lower stress levels overall. Additionally, when acute stress hits, getting out of the situation, changing your environment, and getting active, if possible, can help you to calm down and gain perspective.
- Mindfulness: Being mindful means being presently and actively in the moment: savoring what you eat, really listening in conversation, noticing the beauty and details around you, and ultimately, being grateful for all these things. When you do not allow your mind to wander off and stress about the past, worry about the future, or judge yourself or others, you can enjoy where you are and focus on positive strategies that decrease stress rather than allowing external issues to increase the stress of the present moment.
What do you need to do to lower your stress levels and increase your ability to stay sober in recovery?