An anti-addiction vaccine may sound too good to be true, but researchers are currently working to develop and test vaccines for drug-specific addictions that can be used to treat and prevent addiction. For people with loved ones who have struggled with addiction for years, this may sound like a dream come true, but there are a few facts to be aware of before celebrating.
Drug and alcohol addiction is a complex problem that can’t possibly ever be solved with a quick-fix solution. However, anti-addiction vaccines may eventually play a role in the treatment process that could help people recover from their addiction(s) and maintain lasting sobriety.
Before jumping to conclusions, it’s important to understand what anti-addiction vaccines are, how they work, and their risks and limitations. Here are five important facts you should know about anti-addiction vaccines.
- Successful anti-addiction vaccines are expected to work by blocking the euphoric effects of the drug and preventing its other harmful effects.
Successful anti-addiction vaccines are expected to work by preventing the drug molecules from reaching the pleasure center of the brain. To achieve this, each vaccine is comprised of a drug-specific antigen that stimulates the production of antibodies.1
When a vaccinated person uses the target drug, the antibodies bind to it and prevent it from entering the brain and other organs of the body. This, in turn, prevents the person from getting high or experiencing any of the other negative side effects of the drug.2
In short, successful anti-addiction vaccines are expected to work by training the body to recognize certain drugs like methamphetamine or cocaine and bind to the drug’s molecules to keep the user from getting high. As a result, a vaccinated person will receive no reward or relief from their craving and have no motivation to continue using the drug.
For a visual explanation of how anti-addiction vaccines work, watch this short video from the National Institutes of Health.3
- Anti-addiction vaccines are not a quick fix for addiction.
Anti-addiction vaccines aren’t intended to be used on their own, nor would they work that way. They are designed to be a part of a comprehensive treatment plan that incorporates other evidence-based treatment methods and behavioral therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy, 12-Step therapy, or individual and group counseling sessions.
As wonderful as it would be to have a single vaccine that would cure every addicted person, there is still no “cure” for addiction. If researchers are able to get the funding they need to complete a successful clinical trial, anti-addiction vaccines may prove to be an effective supplemental treatment for people in addiction recovery.
For example, if a vaccinated person had a weak moment and decided to use a drug again, the vaccine would keep them from getting high and prevent a full relapse. An inpatient or outpatient drug rehab program can also help them resolve the internal causes of their addictive behaviors to prevent any additional lapses or relapses.
- A single anti-addiction vaccine wouldn’t prevent a person’s drug abuse.
A single anti-addiction vaccine wouldn’t keep someone from developing an addiction. Instead, it would help prevent relapse. For an anti-addiction vaccine to be effective, it would need to be administered in several different booster shots. Chemist Kim D. Janda, PhD of the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California and his colleagues have been working for decades to develop an anti-addiction vaccine that works. In a recent article published by MDedge Psychiatry, he says people would probably need to be vaccinated once a month for about three months. The effects of the vaccine would last anywhere from four to six months.4
- An anti-addiction vaccine may not be ideal for every addicted person.
Since multiple booster shots would be needed for anti-addiction vaccines to be effective, a person would have to routinely return to the doctor or a treatment center to receive a vaccine multiple times a year. For people who are not very motivated to get sober, this wouldn’t work. The person receiving the vaccine would have to be strongly committed to their sobriety and have a strong support system in place to remain motivated.5 Additionally, even if the vaccine was effective, if a person wanted to get high, he or she could switch to a different drug to get high.
- There are still many challenges to overcome before anti-addiction vaccines are FDA-approved and effective.
Although the development of anti-addiction vaccines began back in the 1970s and there is potential for them to work, results from animal and human trials have been disappointing.
Scientifically speaking, an effective anti-addiction vaccine must be comprised of adjuvants (a substance that enhances the body’s immune response to an antigen) that are strong enough to keep all of the drug molecules from entering the brain. Additionally, the booster shots need to be given at reasonable intervals, which would mean the vaccine would have to be strong enough to prevent the psychoactive effects of drugs for several weeks at a time.6
Funding is also a major problem, as human testing costs hundreds of millions of dollars.5 Vaccine researchers and developers would need to get the money they need for testing from a pharmaceutical company, but few are likely to back an anti-addiction vaccine, as it won’t produce as much profit as a medication that is taken daily.
Culturally, there is also a social stigma about addiction and its distinction as a complex disease. There are those that believe addiction is a result of moral failings, a lack of self control, or an unwillingness to change. The idea that a vaccine could be an effective way to supplement addiction treatment is not accepted by everyone.
Finding Effective Addiction Treatment and Relapse Prevention
When it’s all said and done, anti-addiction vaccines hold promise for the future, but there is still no easy solution the the addiction problem. At best, an anti-addiction vaccine could be a supplemental addition to evidence-based treatment methods. It could also serve as an additional relapse prevent strategy that could be combined with continued care services like sober living programs, IOP, and aftercare.
Although anti-addiction vaccines may not be the magic cure many people have hoped for, they do offer a new approach that, when combined with behavioral therapies and medication-assisted treatment, could increase the likelihood of people achieving sustained sobriety.
If you or a loved one is addicted to drugs or alcohol, it’s never too late to ask for help. Call Nova Recovery Center today to learn about our comprehensive addiction treatment program. Our continuum of care is designed to carry you through each step of the addiction treatment process and ensure that you have the best opportunity for continued success in sobriety.