Rewarding social interaction prevents drug addiction in rats

2018

Challenge

Despite strides towards understanding neural circuit and molecular mechanisms of drug addiction, treatment options remain largely unchanged. This impasse may be at least partly due to a lack of incorporation of social factors into basic neuroscience studies of the circuit and cellular mechanisms of addiction.

Advance

IRP researchers, led by Marco Venniro, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Yavin Shaham, Ph.D., discovered that rewarding social interaction exerts a profound protective effect against drug addiction in multiple rat models. Their research revealed that rats strongly preferred social interaction over opioid or psychostimulant drugs and that rats that abstained from drugs as a result of social interaction experienced less drug craving, the progressive increase in drug seeking seen during drug abstinence. The IRP researchers also identified a potential neuronal mechanism critical to the protective effect of rewarding social interaction on craving.

Impact

These unexpected results illustrate the profound impact of positive social interactions on both addictive behavior and the brain’s responses to addictive drugs. From a clinical perspective, the findings support wider implementation of social-based behavioral treatments, which include not only the classical community reinforcement approach but also innovative social media approaches to provide social support before and during drug-seeking episodes.

Publications

Venniro M, Zhang M, Caprioli D, Hoots JK, Golden SA, Heins C, Morales M, Epstein D, Shaham Y. (2018). Volitional social interaction prevents drug addiction in rat models. Nature Neuroscience. 21(11):1520-1529.