News in the Science of Addiction

By Arlene Kahn Therapy • October 13th, 2009

The Science of Addiction

The following article was published by the Northeast ATTC Network–funded by SAMHSA–Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, to educate and improve the quality of recovery.   Their article helps us learn about the effects of substances on the brain as seen through brain imaging.  For the brain image pictures, please refer below to:   “More about how imaging techniques work and  findings…..” in the article Imaging the Addicted Human Brain (Fowler, et.al.)   Their article states:

“Addiction is characterized by the compulsive seeking and use of substances in the face of negative, even catastrophic consequences. The 2006 National Survey on Drug Use and Health estimates that 22.6 million persons in the United States suffered from substance dependence or abuse in 2006.  That is over 9% percent of the population aged 12 or older. The symptoms of addiction have been documented throughout history, across cultures and socioeconomic levels. Many explanations and solutions have been advanced that often involve religious, political, moral, and social perspectives (Glenn, 2005). Yet addiction remains as close as our family, our friends, and our selves.


What Can Science Show Us?

Science is expanding knowledge of what happens when drug use transforms into addiction as an invaluable foundation to understanding why. For those in the addiction field, this is an enormously exciting time.

Technological advances now allow scientists to “see” how the brain functions and explore the physical differences between the normal brain and the addicted brain. “Clinicians may one day—perhaps sooner rather than later—use brain imaging to assess addiction, to assign patients to appropriate care interventions, and to monitor response to therapy “(Fowler, et al., 2007). (Italics, mine.)

Each of the “five primary brain imaging techniques—structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), functional MRI, magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS), positron emission tomography (PET), and single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT)—reveal different aspects of brain structure or function (Fowler, et al., 2007) . . . More about how imaging techniques work and findings . . .

“Studies employing neuroimaging technology paired with sophisticated behavioral measurement paradigms have led to extraordinary progress in elucidating many of the neurochemical and functional changes that occur in the brains of people who are addicted to drugs” (Volkow, n.d.). More on the neurobiology of free will in addictive disorders.

What this means is that addiction professionals may soon be able to use brain imaging to determine the extent and kind of addiction, which parts of the brain are affected and  choose specific behavioral and medical interventions to help addicts recover in the most effective way possible. Exciting, indeed.

Do you think if you actually could see how your brain was affected by alcohol or drug use it might make a difference in your recovery?

Please add your comments, questions, thoughts to this article.  Thanks, Arlene

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