People seeking treatment from addiction have long found it to be a painful and oftentimes life-long process. But researchers at Vanderbilt University believe that a diabetes drug may make the process slightly easier, and could be effective in fighting addiction to various drugs, including cocaine.

"What we have demonstrated is that a brain mechanism already known to be therapeutic for the treatment of diabetes also appears to be implicated in at least certain types of drug addiction," said Gregg Stanwood, an assistant professor of pharmacology and an investigator at Vanderbilt University, in a press release.

The drug is called Exendin-4 and is currently used to manage diabetes. In trials with animals, the drug lowered the rewarding effect of cocaine. The researchers injected animals with Exendin-4 and found that the reward-blocking effect held true, no matter what the dosage was. They do not believe that treatment with Exendin-4 would come with any side effects or addiction. Researchers believe that the medication could also have uses for other drugs, especially stimulants like amphetamine and methamphetamine.

Researchers targeted this drug because there is a significant overlap between sufferers of metabolic conditions, like diabetes and obesity, and psychiatric ones, like addiction and schizophrenia.

Stanwood and his colleagues are hopeful that their findings would also hold true in humans. Since addiction is a complex condition, with a number of genetic and environmental factors at play, it is unlikely that a single treatment would work for all patients.

Addiction is currently treated with a combination of pharmaceutical interventions and behavior modification, but there is no single drug that can be used to combat addiction itself. Normally, drugs are prescribed to help patients cope with the symptoms of withdrawal, rather than to target the biological mechanisms at play behind addiction.

The study was published in a recent issue of Molecular Psychiatry.