Addiction as it is studied now is a relatively new phenomenon, especially considering how long many of the drugs people abuse today have been around like the ages old alcohol or opioids. Both have been a part of human culture for at least five hundred years with some other drugs going back thousands of years, yet we have less than a century of actually studying what happens to people when they become addicted to a drug. Alcoholics anonymous is one of the oldest and longest lasting institutions which looks at addiction as something that can be overcome but it has only been recently that science and academic research has been applied to the condition which affects over one million Americans each year.
Research at the University of Geneva (UNIGE) has potentially uncovered another puzzle piece which could someday lead to the mastering of medicine and therapy over addictive substances. The researchers, who published their work recently in the science journal Nature, studied regions the brain that become altered while an addiction is present in mice and may have uncovered a so-called ‘addiction circuit’. The ‘addiction circuit’, as the researchers refer to it until it can be officially named, could be a prime factor in work towards creating medications that inhibit behaviors that occur as a result of the condition of addiction.
The research involved increasing and decreasing the activity of this specific area of the brain in several mice. When the activity was increased, the affected mice would seek to partake in the addictive substances provided to them. When activity in that same area of the brain was inhibited, the mice were able to resist the substance and instead behaved more like the control mice which were never exposed to an addictive substance.
Christian Luscher, the senior author of the study and professor at the Department of Basic and Clinical Neurosciences of the Faculty of Medicine made clear that the study was still only the beginning of a long ongoing effort to not only better understand the brain but to understand how addictions themselves form and hijack normal behaviors.
“We do not know why one person becomes addicted to drugs while another one doesn’t, but our study identifies the difference in brain function between the two behaviors,” Christian remarked. The study focused on what was termed ‘compulsive behavior’ in the mice. Those that would actively go against a typical behavioral pattern and divert towards over-indulging in an addictive substance were engaging in ‘compulsive behavior’ which is thought to be linked to addiction. The understanding of addiction as a disease at current time suggests that addictive behaviors could be genetic regarding risk levels and variants of risk between individuals. When exposed to known addictive products and drugs, the addiction patterns begin to alter the behavior of the person affected and if left untreated with a particularly dangerous substance, can lead to self destructive patterns or even death.
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