Fall 2018

Pathways for resisting relapse

with Jazmin Camchong, Ph.D.

Alcohol addiction affects more than 15 million people in the United States. Beating that addiction is tough: About two-thirds of people relapse within a year of treatment.

Jazmin Camchong, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Medical School’s Department of Psychiatry, looks for solutions to addiction inside the human brain. While she was first drawn to the University of Minnesota in 2007 as a postdoctoral fellow with an interest in examining brain differences in people who have psychiatric disorders, today she’s focusing on how to help people maintain sobriety.

Jazmin Camchong, Ph.D.

Is it possible to predict who will remain abstinent after treatment and who will relapse?

We have been able to predict future relapse with about 75 percent accuracy by looking at brain scans during early abstinence and seeing how strong the connection is between the reward center and the executive control center of the brain. The stronger the connection during early abstinence, the more likely that person is to remain abstinent.

But how does having that information help people who struggle with alcohol addiction?

At some point you have ask, “So what if we see brain differences, if we can’t do anything about it?” With our new pilot study, we’ve shown that once we identify the brain differences, we can target them.

We recruited 17 people with alcohol use disorder to see if we could help them build stronger brain connections. We developed brain training that combines tasks that engage the reward and executive centers of the brain and noninvasive transcranial direct-current brain stimulation. tDCS is a safe procedure that is at most perceived as a light itching or warming sensation on the stimulation site.

Did that help people remain abstinent?

So far, people who got the placebo relapsed within 19 days, and the people who got stimulation didn’t relapse for 110 days. That’s an exciting result!

But everybody still relapses?

Yes, because the stimulation may not be long-lasting. We still need to find out how long the effects last and what the next step in the intervention is.

How are you paying for the study?

All of the work so far has been funded by philanthropy through the Westlake-Wells Alcohol Addiction Research Project. In fact, the research has been so prolific that it’s helped us to apply for more National Institutes of Health grants. It’s been a remarkable gift.

Is this the future of addiction treatment?

Current treatment programs are clearly not working for everyone. The scientific community is invested in developing treatments that target the brain to ultimately offer people tools that enhance brain regions that support abstinence.

Make a gift to this research at give.umn.edu/giveto/westlake-wells.

Boosting brain networks

What’s happening inside the brains of people battling alcohol addiction who stay sober and those who relapse? The U’s Jazmin Camchong, Ph.D., and colleagues used resting functional magnetic resonance imaging to look at the brain network associated with relapse and abstinence. People with stronger connections between the reward and executive control centers of the brain were less likely to relapse (left), while weaker connections indicated a greater likelihood of relapse (right). The team also designed a brain training regimen that successfully strengthened that brain network and helped the people struggling most with addiction remain sober for longer periods of time. Their ultimate goal, Camchong says, is to develop new treatments for alcoholism that could help people remain sober, much like the way methadone isused as a treatment for opiate addiction.