Sensory Enrichment Therapy
Scientific research shows environmental enrichment improves the brain’s ability to overcome addiction
Environmental enrichment reduces heroin seeking following incubation of craving in both male and female rats
Drug and Alcohol Dependence, Volume 226, 1 September 2021, 108852
Eddy D. Barrera, Lacey Loughlin, Stephen Greenberger, Scott Ewing, Priscila Hachimine, Robert Ranaldi
Contemporary treatments for heroin use disorder demonstrate only limited efficacy when the goals are long term abstinence and prevention of relapse. We have demonstrated that environmental enrichment (EE) reduces cue-induced heroin reinstatement in male rats. The present study is an attempt to extend the “anti-relapse” effects of EE to female rats and to periods where incubation of craving is hypothesized to occur.
This experiment implemented a 3-phase procedure. In Phase 1, male and female rats were trained to self-administer heroin for 15 days. Phase 2 consisted of a 3- or 15-day forced abstinence (FA) period. In Phase 3 half of the rats were placed into EE and the other half in non-EE housing and subsequently tested for responding in extinction (no heroin or cues) for 15 days followed by a cue-induced reinstatement test.
We found that rats in the 15 days FA condition showed significantly enhanced drug seeking during extinction, irrespective of sex. We also found that EE significantly reduced this effect. During reinstatement, EE significantly reduced drug seeking in male and female rats and in both 3- and 15-day FA groups.
EE, with or without prolonged FA, effectively reduced heroin seeking in male and female rats. These findings indicate that EE can reduce drug-seeking in males and females and when putative incubation of craving (i.e., prolonged abstinence period) has occurred and suggest that it may aid in the development of future long-term behavioral treatments for individuals at risk for heroin relapse.
Environmental Enrichment Modulates Drug Addiction and Binge-Like Consumption of Highly Rewarding Substances: A Role for Anxiety and Compulsivity Brain Systems?
Front Behav Neurosci. 2018;12:295.
Rodríguez-Ortega E, Cubero I.
Drug addiction is a chronic disorder comprising components of both impulsivity and compulsivity in the so called “addiction cycle” which develops over time from early non-dependent, repetitive, binge-consumption to later post-dependent compulsive consumption. Thus, frequent binge-like intake is a typical pattern of excessive drug intake characteristic of the pre-dependent phase of the addiction cycle, which represent an important risk factor to develop addiction in vulnerable individuals. In this framework, it is of paramount interest to further understand the earliest stage of the addiction cycle so novel approaches would emerge aimed to control repetitive episodes of binge-consumption in non-dependent subjects, protecting vulnerable individuals from transition to dependence.
Environmental enrichment (EE) is a preclinical animal model in which animals are housed under novel, social enriched conditions, which allows exercising and provides sensory and cognitive stimulation.
EE promotes important improvements for a variety of cognitive processes and clear therapeutic and protective effects preventing ethanol (EtOH) and drug addiction as well.
Interestingly, recent observations suggest that EE might additionally modulate binge-like intake of highly palatable caloric substances, including EtOH, which suggests the ability of EE to regulate consumption during the initial stage of the addiction cycle.
We have proposed that EE protective and therapeutic effects on binge-consumption of palatable substances might primarily be mediated by the modulatory control that EE exerts on anxiety and impulsivity/compulsivity traits, which are all risk factors favoring transition to drug addiction.
Environmental enrichment reverses increased addiction risk caused by prenatal ethanol exposure
Drug and Alcohol Dependence, Volume 191, 1 October 2018, Pages 343-347
Wang R, Hausknecht KA, Shen YL, Haj-Dahmane S, Vezina P, Shen RY
Prenatal ethanol exposure (PE) leads to multiple cognitive and behavioral deficits including increased drug addiction risk. Previous studies have shown that the rearing environment plays a significant role in addiction propensity.
In the present study, we investigated if environmental enrichment during development could be effective in lowering the PE-induced increase in addiction risk.
To simulate heavy drinking during pregnancy in humans, pregnant Sprague-Dawley rats received ethanol (6 g/kg/day) or vehicle through intragastric gavage on gestation days 8–20. After weaning, the offspring were reared in either an enriched environment (EE) including neonatal handling and complex housing or an impoverished environment (IE) consisting of barren, single housing. Adult male offspring were then tested for locomotion, performance on the elevated plus maze, and amphetamine self-administration under a progressive ratio reinforcement schedule.
Overall, EE rats, compared to IE rats, showed reduced locomotor activity in a novel environment and lower levels of anxiety, irrespective of prenatal treatments. Prenatal ethanol exposure increased amphetamine self-administration at both doses tested (0.02 and 0.05 mg/kg/infusion) and in each case EE relative to IE reversed this effect.
These findings suggest that postnatal environmental complexity plays a determining role in addiction risk after PE.
Exposure to environmental enrichment attenuates addiction-like behavior and alters molecular effects of heroin self-administration in rats.
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