Addiction by Volkow

addictionAddiction by Nora D. Volkow, M.D. Addiction and the Brain’s Pleasure Pathway: Beyond Willpower. Eventually, the drive to seek and use the drug is all that matters, despite devastating consequences.
Summary:

The human brain is an extraordinarily complex and fine-tuned communications network containing billions of specialized cells (neurons) that give origin to our thoughts, emotions, perceptions and drives. Often, a drug is taken the first time by choice to feel pleasure or to relieve depression or stress. But this notion of choice is short-lived. Why? Because repeated drug use disrupts well-balanced systems in the human brain in ways that persist, eventually replacing a person’s normal needs and desires with a one-track mission to seek and use drugs. At this point, normal desires and motives will have a hard time competing with the desire to take a drug.

How Does the Brain Become Addicted?

Typically it happens like this:

What brain changes are responsible for such a dramatic shift?

Research on addiction is helping us find out just how drugs change the way the brain works.

The disease of addiction can develop in people despite their best intentions or strength of character. Drug addiction is insidious because it affects the very brain areas that people need to “think straight,” apply good judgment and make good decisions for their lives. No one wants to grow up to be a drug addict, after all.

Co-occurring Addictions: Compounding Complexities

It is not unusual for an addicted person to be addicted to alcohol, nicotine and illicit drugs at the same time. Addiction to multiple substances raises the level of individual suffering and magnifies the associated costs to society. No matter what the addictive substance, they all have at least one thing in common – they disrupt the brain’s reward pathway, the route to pleasure.

What is the best way to treat people who are addicted to more than one drug?

Relapse: Part of Addiction as a Chronic Disease

Despite the availability of many forms of effective treatment for addiction, the problem of relapse remains the major challenge to achieving sustained recovery. People trying to recover from drug abuse and addiction are often doing so with altered brains, strong drug-related memories and diminished impulse control. Accompanied by intense drug cravings, these brain changes can leave people vulnerable to relapse even after years of being abstinent. Relapse happens at rates similar to the relapse rates for other well-known chronic medical illnesses like diabetes, hypertension and asthma.

How is relapse to drug abuse similar to what happens with other chronic diseases?

To achieve long-term recovery, treatment must address specific, individual patient needs and must take the whole person into account. For it is not enough simply to get a person off drugs; rather, the many changes that have occurred – physical, social, psychological – must also be addressed to help people stay off drugs, for good.

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