Abilify: Dual-Purpose Treatment for Cocaine Addiction?

As an illegal psychostimulant drug, cocaine has ravaging effects both on the individual user and on society as a whole. The addictive qualities of cocaine are well-documented, and users often persist in their abuse despite one negative consequence after another. The search for effective, reliable treatments for cocaine addiction is ongoing. Recently, the antipsychotic drug Abilify (aripiprazole) has shown some potential as a treatment both for those currently addicted to the drug and those in the recovery stages. A pair of experiments with mice demonstrated that Abilify blocks some of the positive, rewarding effects of stimulant drugs while also reducing the odds of relapse.

In the earlier mouse study, Abilify reduced “self-administration” of cocaine in mice. As the dosage of Abilify was increased, the effect was more pronounced. At the same time, the mice did not seem to “overcome” the effects of Abilify by administering higher doses of cocaine. Researchers believe that part of this medication’s action on the cellular level actually negates the action of cocaine and possibly other stimulants. Another positive aspect of Abilify is that it seems to lack any obvious rewarding qualities of its own. The mice did not self-administer more Abilify in lieu of cocaine, an important quality that enhances its potential as a treatment for drug-addicted humans.

A later study examined whether Abilify could reduce relapse of cocaine addiction. In this experiment, mice were presented with the opportunity to self-administer cocaine after a 2-week period of withdrawal from the drug. Mice that had been given scheduled doses of Abilify showed far less potential for relapse. Apparently, the medication establishes a kind of “blockade” around the receptor sites to which cocaine typically attaches. This revelation is important for those who work directly with individuals in the field of drug addiction.

Addiction to cocaine and other stimulants continues to be a public health epidemic. Researchers are on a quest to discover effective pharmaceutical treatments for addiction. Because of repeated successful trials, low incidence of side effects, and generally high tolerability, Abilify has been identified as a potentially very useful tool in the battle against psychostimulant addiction. Abilify both reduces the immediate reward effects of cocaine and reduces the odds of relapse during the recovery phase. As a supplement to group counseling or talk therapy, treatment with Abilify may give recovering addicts a powerful advantage in their struggle to restore normalcy in their lives.


  • Feltenstein, M. W., Do, P. H., See, R. E. (2009). Repeated aripiprazole administration attenuates cocaine seeking in a rat model of relapse. Psychopharmacology, 207, 401-411.
  • Sorensen, G., Sager, T. N., Petersen, J. H., Brennum, L. T., Thogersen, P., Bengtsen, C. H., Thomson, M., … Woldbye, D. P. D. (2008). Aripiprazole blocks acute self-administration of cocaine and is not self-administered in mice. Psychopharmacology, 199, 37-46.

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