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Rethinking addiction and the brain on drugs

| | August 8, 2014

Every day sees a new research article on addiction, be it cocaine, heroin, food or porn. Each one takes a specific angle on how addiction works in the brain. Perhaps it’s a disorder of reward, with drugs hijacking a natural system that is meant to respond to food, sex and friendship.

Possibly addiction is a disorder of learning, where our brains learn bad habits and responses. Maybe we should think of addiction as a combination of an environmental stimulus and vulnerable genes.  Or perhaps it’s an inappropriate response to stress, where bad days trigger a relapse to the cigarette, syringe or bottle.

None of these views are wrong. But none of them are complete, either. Addiction is a disorder of reward, a disorder of learning. It has genetic, epigenetic and environmental influences. It is all of that and more. Addiction is a display of the brain’s astounding ability to change — a feature called plasticity  — and it showcases what we know and don’t yet know about how brains adapt to all that we throw at them.

“A lot of people think addiction is what happens when someone finds a drug to be the most rewarding thing they’ve ever experienced,” says neuroscientist George Koob, director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism in Bethesda, Md. “But drug abuse is not just feeling good about drugs. Your brain is changed when you misuse drugs. It is changed in ways that perpetuate the problem.”

The changes associated with drug use affect how addicts respond to drug cues, like the smell of a cigarette or the sight of a shot of vodka. Drug abuse also changes how other rewards, such as money or food are processed, decreasing their relative value.

Read the full, original story: Addiction showcases the brain’s flexibility

The GLP aggregated and excerpted this article to reflect the diversity of news, opinion, and analysis. Click the link above to read the full, original article.
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