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~ How addiction hijacks the brain ~
Compliments of Harvard Mental Health
Published: July, 2011

Desire initiates the process, but learning sustains it.

The word "addiction" is derived from a Latin term for "enslaved by" or "bound to." Anyone who has struggled to overcome an addiction — or has tried to help someone else to do so — understands why.

 
illustration of brain showing areas involved in addiction                    brain image - see text

Addiction exerts a long and powerful influence on the brain that manifests in three distinct ways: craving for the object of addiction, loss of control over its use, and continuing involvement with it despite adverse consequences. While overcoming addiction is possible, the process is often long, slow, and complicated. It took years for researchers and policymakers to arrive at this understanding.

In the 1930's, when researchers first began to investigate what caused addictive behavior, they believed that people who developed addictions were somehow morally flawed or lacking in willpower. Overcoming addiction, they thought, involved punishing miscreants or, alternately, encouraging them to muster the will to break a habit.

The scientific consensus has changed since then. Today we recognize addiction as a chronic disease that changes both brain structure and function. Just as cardiovascular disease damages the heart and diabetes impairs the pancreas, addiction hijacks the brain. Recovery from addiction involves willpower, certainly, but it is not enough to "just say no" — as the 1980's slogan suggested. Instead, people typically use multiple strategies — including psychotherapy, medication, and self-care — as they try to break the grip of an addiction.


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~ Brains Wired for Addiction (No Kidding) and What This Says About "Harm Reduction" ~

Addiction is the news again, a good thing because large numbers of people are drug/alcohol addicted --alcohol is a drug in case anyone has been lulled into thinking it's "different." So when I use the word "drug," know I am also referring to alcohol. Recent research published in Science http://tiny.cc/sy20 reminds us that there's "different brain wiring" in people who are, or who have been addicted to stimulants, along with their siblings -including those who've avoided drug use and therefore addiction.
 
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The role of genetics in addiction is fairly well established. In the early ‘80s, Schuckit (in San Diego) found that son's of alcoholics (who are not yet drinkers themselves) have a different response to alcohol. Going a step further, there's evidence from twin studies, from rodent studies, from molecular genetic studies, that different brain wiring -heritable different wiring-- is implicated in addiction to drugs. And today, the Chronicle of Higher education ran a review by Peter Monaghan, http://tiny.cc/t0791 of Memoirs of an Addicted Brain: A Neuroscientist Examines His Former Life on Drugs http://tiny.cc/hhjx4 by Marc Lewis, a neuroscientist who was himself a "practicing addict" for many years, before cleaning up and going to graduate school. Lewis describes what was going on in his brain subjectively (what he felt) when he was seeking, looking forward to, and consuming drugs, and then explains it from the perspective of a neuroscientist. It's all about dopamine.

None of this is big news for addiction medicine specialists, nor for people in recovery from drug addictions --but it's always a relief to see supportive results from empirical labs, from neuroscientists, and now from a neuroscientist who himself was an addict, or should I say a recovering addict. Addiction, once it gets going, is a "chronic disease" as spelled out by the folk wisdom of 12-step self-help programs, and it doesn't go away, it just goes in remission when the addict stops taking drugs entirely. The study in Science, and Lewis' book are important, given the present influence of the "harm reduction" movement that is quietly at war with proponents of the disease model of addiction, that calls for abstinence.

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