Addiction therapy alternative to medication

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Professionals can’t predict addiction, professor says.

By Dean Contreras

A therapy used to treat depression could now help treat people with addiction, Dr. Diana Martinez, professor of psychiatry at Columbia University Irving Medical Center said Feb. 15 in the nursing complex at an event sponsored by the Human Services Club.

Martinez explained to about 40 students the neurological changes that happen in alcohol and drug addiction that could benefit from transcranial magnetic stimulation therapy.

“Addiction is treatable,” Martinez said.

San Antonio qualifies as a high intensity drug trafficking area by the Drug Enforcement Agency, and marijuana is the most commonly used and seized drug.

Marijuana triggers receptors to release dopamine, a chemical in the brain that gives pleasure.

“Sluggish dopamine is fixed with drug use, but it is static to permanent change,” Martinez said about drugs tricking the brain and the dopamine reward system.

Receptors are decreased in drug abusers, which leads to dopamine levels being low.

She said she is in the beginning stages of applying the therapy to stimulate receptors in the brains of people with addiction.

The therapy is done through a machine attached to the head that uses magnetic fields to stimulate nerve cells in certain regions of the brain.

It is used for depression treatment, but the biology of why the therapy works is not understood, she said.

Martinez said she sees the correlation of people with addiction having weak dopamine receptors and the therapy affecting them as an opportunity to find a new method of treatment for addiction.

There needs to be alternative ways that are safer and have larger chances for success, she said 

Her main obstacle is getting enough funding and waiting for federal grants to be approved.

She said most people are not aware of their chance to become addicted to substances, and many forms of treatment for addiction are dangerous. 

According to a report from the National Institute of Drug Abuse, between 9 and 30 percent of those who use marijuana can develop a degree of marijuana use disorder.

In an interview after the presentation, Martinez said she first started the discussion of addiction with her son when he reached high school because that is an environment where drugs had the possibility of entering his life.

“It started when I told him not to accept drugs from anyone, and his friends were listening, too. Then once his friends told their parents, they became interested, too,” Martinez said.

She now gives presentations to high schools and colleges to explain the methods and science of addiction treatment. 

“Teenagers develop habits that stay for their entire life,” she said. “That includes addictions.”

She advised everyone to avoid drug and alcohol use because professionals can’t predict if someone is able to become addicted.

The institute has guidelines to start the path to treating an addiction, Martinez stated.

Visit the NIDA website at


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