Altering Benzodiazepines Could Help Create Non-Addictive Anxiety Drugs

When you examine addictions throughout the world, people may have different reasons for developing their habit, but the addiction could be based more on the reward pathways in the brain.

A recent Reuters piece highlights the similarities between valium-like drugs and heroin and cannabis as each of these use the same addictive reward pathways in the brain. These findings were reported as scientists continue to search for anxiety drug alternatives that do not pose an addiction risk.

According to researchers from Switzerland and the United States, so-called benzodiazepine drugs, including Ativan, Xanax and Valium, each exert a calming effect by boosting action of a neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the same way as addictive drugs like opioids and cannabinoids.

When the GABA is boosted, it in turn activates the gratification hormone, dopamine, in the brain. Scientists note that this is the same brain reward pathway used by both types of drugs. Such findings could help in the development of non-addictive benzodiazepines.

When studying benzodiazepines, scientists determined that they work by binding to a particular part of the GABA. The development of similar benzodiazepines that will bind to a different part of the GABA may offer the same drug benefits without the addictive side effects.

An earlier study found that people with higher levels of dopamine in the brain tend to be more prone to addictive behavior. To combat the growth in addictions to necessary medications, pharmaceutical companies have tried to develop benzodiazepines with an altered chemical make-up that can deliver a more selective effect to avoid unwanted side effects. So far – the process has been labored and slow.

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