Cortisol May Curb Heroin Cravings

heroin-cravings, cortisolHeroin has been in the news a lot lately due to the number of overdose deaths occurring across the country. The rate of heroin use is staggering; many people find their way to the highly addictive substance by way of prescription opioids. Over the last few years, governmental measures intended to reduce prescription drug abuse has had the unintended consequence of nudging addicts towards heroin – which happens to be cheaper, stronger, and can easily lead to overdose.

Last year, 681,000 Americans aged 12 and older used heroin, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reports. With over half a million users, the need for greater access to effective substance use disorder treatment is crucial. While drugs, such as buprenorphine, are effective at alleviating withdrawal symptoms and reducing cravings, addiction researchers are always looking for new methods that will give recovering addicts the best chance at a successful recovery.

Cortisol for Cravings

A new study has found that cortisol, a stress hormone, may reduce cravings for heroin, Newsweek reports. The research included 29 heroin addicts undergoing treatment with pharmaceutical heroin (diacetylmorphine). The researchers found that cortisol decreased cravings in heroin patients by up to 25 percent.

Cortisol is naturally secreted from the adrenal gland in response to stressful situations. Researchers at the University of Basel in Switzerland gave some patients cortisol tablets and others a placebo before administering a dose of heroin, according to the article. The patients were asked to rate their level of cravings at a later time.

The patients who were on a lower dose of heroin (up to 305 milligrams daily) and were given cortisol, reported having less craving for another dose of heroin. Unfortunately, patients who were taking a higher dose of heroin daily did not report having lower cravings.

The findings appear in Translational Psychiatry.

Looking Ahead

The study’s lead author, Dominique de Quervain, believes that cortisol may be helpful in treating other forms of addiction. More research is needed to determine the “safety and efficacy” of cortisol as a treatment for addiction.

“It might be interesting to see if [cortisol] also works for other addictions — for example, nicotine or gambling — because they are all driven by craving,” de Quervain said.

“We observed previously that cortisol can reduce memory retrieval in healthy subjects,” says de Quervain. “What we think is that cortisol, by reducing addiction memory, can actually also reduce craving.”


If you are or loved one is addicted to opioids, please contact Next Step Intervention. We can assist you in finding the right treatment which will help you learn how to live a life free of opioids.

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