Science of addiction is a challenge to apply

Posted on April 29, 2016 by Addiction Editor

brain science and addictionRemaining abstinent is the hardest part of addiction treatment. There has been a misguided mentality that addiction is a moral flaw — and that overcoming it is a matter of willpower. The reality, as brain research now shows, is far more complicated.

“This is why people just can’t quit: Their brains have been changed,” says Dr. Valerie Westhead, a psychiatrist and chief medical officer for Aspire Health Partners in Central Florida. “And we’ve just really fully understood that within the past five years or so, and I don’t think the understanding is pervasive even among medical professionals. It’s going to take a while.”

Through advances in medical scanning equipment, researchers can now trace the brain’s neurotransmitter activity, energy use and blood flow as it is exposed to addictive substances. They can also see how the brain alters itself over time as it attempts to maintain normalcy despite overwhelming stimulation — which is why addicts need greater and greater quantities to experience the same result.

The research led the American Psychiatric Association to a 2013 landmark decision to classify “gambling disorder” as the first and so far only condition in a category of behavioral addictions that create the same brain responses, rewards, cravings and tolerance levels that addictive drugs do.

Internet gaming disorder could be added next. It’s officially under consideration, while other behaviors and food are being investigated for possible consideration. Dr. Mark Gold, director of research for the Drug Enforcement Administration Educational Foundation and the retired chairman of the University of Florida College of Medicine’s psychiatry department, says sugar demonstrates strong addictive potential. And even something normally considered healthy, such as exercise, can be weakly addictive, he says.

Westhead agrees. “I think there are a lot of unanswered questions about compulsive exercise and eating disorders,” she says. “We’re just beginning to understand the aspects of behavioral addiction.” To read more click here.

Addiction and behavioural addictions will be discussed at the Australian and New Zealand Addiction Conference 2016, themed Alcohol – Other Drugs – Behavioural Addictions, Prevention, Treatment and Recovery will be held on the Gold Coast from the 19 – 20 May 2016. To view the high quality Conference Program CLICK HERE.

To register your attendance at the conference CLICK HERE.

Hosted by The Australia and New Zealand Mental Health Association promotes and encourages participation from all parts of the sector towards a shared appreciation of what medical, psycho-social and peer-based approaches can offer, through the experiences of service users, clinicians, and researchers.

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