What We Know. What We’re Learning.
The United States is riddled with addictions. Opioid addiction alone claimed 64,000 lives in 2016, and the number is growing. One out of every 8 Americans suffers from alcoholism and over 40 million smoke. Besides addictions to alcohol, drugs and other illicit substances, people can get addicted to something else - food, sex, gambling, smartphones, shopping, etc.
Decades ago, addiction was considered a moral problem. People CHOSE to use drugs and chose to continue to use them. People CHOSE to drink alcohol and continue to do so. Today, views are changing because of addiction research. It’s not so much of choice, but more of a neurological effect.
The Neuroscience of Pleasure
Neuroscientists have discovered how the brain processes drugs, alcohol, food, and many other forms of addiction, and how that can be what is contributing to epidemics.
Neuroscience research on sensory pleasure has revealed that pleasant events activate certain brain regions and neurotransmitters. When people like something, the brain learns this information, which leads the brain to want it, and can ultimately lead the brain to tell you that you need it, and the addiction spiral has begun. The activation of those regions is what scientists continue to study because there’s still so much unknown about them in relation to how to disrupt it in the case of recovering from an addiction. Neuroscientists know there must be some way to achieve it, as they know those regions seem to be deactivated in people who suffer from a loss of pleasure -anhedonia - in the case of depression.
Learning About Addiction from the Unaddicted
Brain variances seem to be why some people escape addiction, while others fall easily into it. Genetics, trauma, and stress are known risk factors for addiction, so studying those who don’t have addiction seems to be the path to uncover what it is about genetics, trauma, and stress that does lead some people to become addicted.
Revolutionary Therapies for Recovery
New therapies are coming out that may be able to help more people who continue to struggle with addiction despite traditional addiction treatment methods. Underskin implants using the drug Naltrexone may be able to help alcoholics abstain from drinking. Electromagnetic pulses may be able to reprogram the brain to help cocaine addicts. These and other therapies are leading the way to treat addiction effectively, and soon, therapies will be available to prevent addiction.
The Science of Addiction
The science of addiction is in its infancy, and the next decade should be a time we learn more about how the brain influences addiction behavior and how to prevent those influences. Those battling addictions may not have to suffer in the future as new therapies are released, which is something everyone is hoping will happen sooner rather than later.