While it may appear that people suffer from addiction longer because of the thrill of the high, uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms can also deter them from becoming sober. The most difficult part of treating opioid addiction is preventing relapse. A new study has shown that interrupting the neural pathway responsible for opiate-associated memories has the potential to treat addiction.

What Happened in the Study

A study was conducted on mice that were introduced to a device with two chambers. One side offered a drug-free saline solution and the other offered a small dose of morphine. Mice were exposed to the device for four days. When their memory was tested on the fifth day, the mice showed compulsive preference to the chamber offering morphine. These mice were succumbing to the lows of opioid addiction. 

When the Mice Became Addicted to Morphine

The paraventricular thalamus (PVT) is a key brain node that is connected to multiple brain regions that are related to addiction. Using optogenetics – a method for controlling a neuron’s activity using light – the team was able to control the activity of various pathways at different points of the drug high. When the researchers turned off the PVT pathway, the mice no longer preferred the drug-associated chamber. The mice were re-tested without silencing the PVT pathway to see if the mice would once again experience withdrawal. Surprisingly, the mice still did not choose the drug-associated chamber. By silencing the PVT pathway temporarily, environmental cues did not reactivate the memory of the drug. It is like the mice forgot everything about it. 

Ensuring the Drug-Associated Memory is Erased

This study shows that there is a potential to not only change memories, but to erase them entirely. Manipulation of the pathway must be done while a person is inside the memory-associated environment. It needs to be reactivated first to provide a precise opportunity for memory manipulation. The entire memory should not be erased. Only the part that is linked to the drug should be manipulated. Deep brain stimulation is currently used to treat the tremors of people with Parkinson’s and clinical trials for treating depression. Silencing the PVT pathways still has a long way to go before this method of treatment can be put into effect. Erasing memories associated with addiction to a particular opioid can give new hope to someone in recovery by relieving them of the unhealthy feelings that accompany the drug.


Opioid withdrawal is one of the toughest obstacles to a successful recovery. At Alta Loma Transformational Living, our knowledgeable, compassionate professionals and experienced physicians understand the complexities of withdrawing from opioids and the many challenges that may cause relapse. Our all male program offers a comprehensive array of tools to help you develop strategies to protect and sustain your recovery. If you or a man you care about suffers with co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders, we can provide the structure and support necessary to achieve the emotional and psychological stability. Our rustic yet beautiful setting located just north of Austin in Georgetown, Texas, provides a variety of treatment options to support you at every phase of your recovery. If you are interested in learning more about how to control your withdrawal symptoms and develop and achieve healthy independence, call Alta Loma at (866) 457-3843 and speak to one of our friendly representatives about getting started.