Addiction and Brain Disease Overlap

It is not uncommon to find that a drug created for one purpose may be used to treat other issues as well, and interesting new options for addressing addiction have experts taking notice.

As we better understand how addiction and brain disease overlap, scientists are discovering new treatment methods in already established medications. Options being explored include a once-a-month shot that might prevent some of the highest-risk heroin addicts from relapsing, a drug that wakes up narcoleptics that could also be used to treat cocaine addiction and an antidepressant that may fight methamphetamine abuse.

Unlike some drugs that simply block the user from feeling the effects of the high, this new research centers around changing the underlying brain circuitry that leaves substance abusers prone to relapse, the Associated Press reported.

National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Director Dr. Nora Volkow says this is, “a different way of looking at mental illnesses, including substance abuse disorders.” She urges researchers to get more creative in the quest for brain-changing therapies for addiction.

While past theories attributed addiction to a single region of the brain, an increasing number of scientists now believe that psychiatric diseases are a result of dysfunctional circuits spread over multiple regions. These problems hinder areas of the brain from being able to communicate and work together as they should and can explain how the balance between impulsivity and self-control gets derailed.

NIDA is calling for more research into treatments that could target circuits involved with cognitive control, better decision-making and resistance to impulses. This area of study may be in the early stages, but initial findings seem promising.

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