Did you know?

Addiction is a chronic disease and not a moral failure or lack of will.

Addiction In the PAST

  • Having an addiction used to be considered a moral failing, a lack of power over one’s actions.
  • Drug abuse has incrementally increased slowly since the 70s, as a result we see exponentially higher healthcare and education costs, unemployment, and crime.
  • We have only started to understand how drug abuse effects the brain, and new technology will reveal which areas of the brain are being affected.
  • A wide range of health implications from drug abuse (e.g., heart failure, lung disease, hepatitis and HIV/AIDS) are just starting to be discovered.
  • Methadone is the primary medication used for treating drug addiction. Behavioral health treatment exists but are widely used yet.

Addiction Today

A combination of social and biological science discoveries over the last three decades have given us a precise understanding of the pitfalls, risks, and consequences of drug abuse.

  • Because addiction usually starts at a young age, we have identified a prevention process and public outreach for youth and their families. These specific efforts have proven a notable change in the attitudes and behaviors regarding drug abuse and addiction. As a result the rate of nicotine use today in youth is at its lowest point. A group called Monitoring the Future (http://monitoringthefuture.org/) began tracking drug use and the attitudes of teens since 1975. Marijuana use has shown a consistent trend since the mid-1990s, although that trend has been slowly increasing in recent years

Current scientific advances have revolutionized our understanding of drug use and addiction. We have learned that addiction is a chronic disease and not a moral failure or lack of will.

  • Scientists have pinpointed the specific areas of the brain where every major drug abused has its initial impact, including opiates, methamphetamine, cocaine, tobacco, and marijuana.
  • Brain imaging technology has shown that addiction is a disease that effects important communications in specific parts of the brain. These changes in brain chemistry go way beyond the brain’s normal reward system. Addiction effects the regions in the brain that are involved with memory, learning, impulse control, and stress. Continual drug use reprograms these circuits toward compulsive behavior. Which makes that person’s ability to control the desire to seek and use drugs compromised, despite the consequences.
  • Extensive studies have proven that chronic drug use plays a critical role in brain retention. Addiction causes abnormal fluctuation of key brain receptors (e.g., glutamate, dopamine). The powerful drugs modify and change the connections between neurons. Understanding this cast a new light on the way we view drug addiction. We now know that addiction effects learning, which over time causes behaviors to become automatic and compulsive.
  • Drug addiction is now recognized as a disease that is treatable. Treatment requires continued care and many different approaches similar to that of other chronic conditions like obesity and diabetes. Like these other diseases, treatment for addiction not only saves lives, but is cost effective, with an incalculable return on cost. Treatment includes using medication to detox from alcohol, benzodiazepines, and opioid addiction. Use of behavioral treatments are also a mainstay for these and other addictions for which medications have not yet been approved.

Addiction Tomorrow

The priceless knowledge we have accumulated will be used to transform the way we treat addiction and how we can prevent drug abuse moving forward.

  • Our genetic makeup accounts for about half of a person’s risk of becoming an addict. Our environment can factor into and influence the effect on these genes. A type of research called epigenetics has given us insight into these genes. The progress of genetics/epigenetics research will lead to more specific prevention and treatment.
  • New medications and treatment approaches will capitalize on our understanding of the neurobiology of brain circuitry in addiction. For example, this research has revealed new systems (e.g., cannabinoid) that may be a promising target for the development of medications that treat addiction. These medications are being developed to assist common issues associated with addiction, such as stress-induced relapse. Critical knowledge of these pitfalls are important to the development of future addiction therapies.
  • Types of vaccines or immunotherapy are available to help sustain abstinence, and even prevent addiction. Current studies are underway to develop or improve the vaccines that use antibodies to bind the drug, preventing it from entering the brain. A treatment for opioid addiction is already in advanced efficacy trials, showing shocking results in lowered cravings and continuous long-term abstinence.
  • Pharmacogenomics is about understanding how the differences in someone’s genome affect his or her response to a medication. This process and field assist and allow physicians to individualize treatment for a patient that will maximum efficacy and minimize adverse effects.
  • The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 has increased accessibility to insurance coverage. A majority of this coverage is provided by the Affordable Care Act, and will expand access to substance abuse treatment. This will improve the delivery of healthcare for the addict and further educate its health consequences.
  • Psychologist, doctors and other healthcare professionals will start routinely screening patients for substance abuse which will help prevent addiction. By Identifying substance abuse doctors can then provide a more complete and individualized treatment that will increase the outcome for many medical conditions where substance abuse is already prevalent. Early intervention will also help reduce the nearly $650 billion dollars that is currently being spent on addiction today in our society.

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