Addiction happens when the brain tries to overcorrect itself and it can be treated like any other disease, new research says.
Study lead Professor Scott Steffensen and his colleagues at Brigham Young University published three new scientific papers on brain mechanisms connected to addictive substances. They stated that addiction should be treated like any other disease.
"Addiction is a brain disease that could be treated like any other disease," Steffensen said in a press release. "I wouldn't be as motivated to do this research, or as passionate about the work, if I didn't think a cure was possible."
The process of a brain getting addicted is similar to a driver overcorrecting a vehicle, according to the research. The team explained that drugs and alcohol release unnaturally high levels of dopamine in the brain's pleasure centre, which leads to oxidative stress.
The research found that the brain responds to the high generated by alcohol and drugs by generating a protein called BDNF (brain derived neurotrophic factor). This correction reduces the normal dopamine production in the brain after one comes down from the high. Not having enough dopamine is what causes the pains, distress and anxiety of withdrawal.
"The body attempts to compensate for unnatural levels of dopamine, but a pathological process occurs," Steffensen said. "We think it all centers around a subset of neurons that ordinarily put the brakes on dopamine release."
The team undertook another study on nicotine and alcohol addiction. "Addiction is a huge concern in our society and is very misunderstood," Nathan Schilaty, PHD student and co-author said. "Our research is helping us to formulate ideas on how we can better help these individuals through non-invasive and non-pharmacological means."
"I am optimistic that in the near future medical science will be able to reverse the brain changes in dopamine transmission that occur with drug dependence and return an 'addict' to a relatively normal state," said Steffensen . "Then the addict will be in a better position to make rational decisions regarding their behavior and will be empowered to remain drug free."
The findings are published in the Journal of Neuroscience.