Archive for the ‘Alcohol Addiction’ Category

Addicts’ Own Stories Confirm Neuroscience Jul 10, 2008

Margaret Masure began hurtling down the road to addiction at an age when most kids still have training wheels on their bikes. Daniel Payne was a bit older before he started down that path but still years from being able to drive a car legally.
They don’t know each other, but they have much in common:
They’re both from small towns — Masure from St. Johnsbury, Vt., Payne from Hanover, Va. They used to steal beers from their dads before branching out into a variety of drugs.
They have been “clean” for three years, thanks in part to several 12-step program meetings each week. And they’re both preaching what they practice by working for organizations that offer support to people and families struggling with addiction.
Their stories touch upon themes made clear recently by scientists searching for answers about the genesis and treatment of addiction. The questions have plagued researchers for decades, but only in the past several years have they had the tools — such as technology that provides a real-time view of brain function — to unravel them.
The 2004 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that of Americans 12 and older, nearly 8.4 million were addicted to alcohol and nearly 5 million were addicted to other drugs. About 1.4 million were addicted to both, according to the survey by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Thanks to advances in neurobiology, “we have enormous knowledge now of what’s going on” in addicts’ brains, says George Koob, professor of molecular integrative neuroscience at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif. Koob, who calls himself an “irrepressible optimist,” says he is hopeful that new insights into the mechanisms of addiction will lead to new treatments and reduced suffering.
They might debate the terms used to describe addiction, but top scientists in the field pretty much agree on what it is.
“The inability to stop is the essence of what addiction is,” says Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute of Drug Abuse, part of the National Institutes of Health. As Payne, 27, puts it, “my favorite drug was more and all.”
That’s not to say that people who can’t make it through the day without latte grandes or Ghirardelli chocolate are addicts, says Volkow, a self-professed “chocoholic” who has pioneered brain-imaging studies of addiction. Caffeine does activate some of the same brain circuits as the drugs of addiction, but only very mildly, she says. Caffeine can be habit-forming, but Starbucks devotees won’t risk jail time or divorce to feed their habit.
Nor is addiction the same as dependence, although the American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic manual says it is, says Volkow, who’s pushing to drop that wording. “Addiction is much harder to treat. Everybody given an opiate (such as morphine) will become physically dependent, but not everybody will become an addict.”

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