5 Interesting Developments in Addiction Research

5 Interesting Developments in Addiction Research

The journey to understand addiction is filled with discoveries and challenges, making it one of the most fascinating areas of research today.

From new findings on why some people are more susceptible to addiction to innovative treatments that could potentially help individuals recover, this article explores the latest breakthroughs in addiction research, which are changing how we view and treat addiction.


Exciting Developments in Addiction Research

Recent research in addiction has led to significant findings across various aspects of substance use disorders, mental and health outcomes, and potential treatments:

Specific Genetic Markers for Addiction Have Been Identified

Researchers from the University of Washington conducted a large-scale study to find out whether specific genetic differences make people more likely to get addicted to substances such as alcohol, nicotine, cannabis, and opioids.

They looked at the entire genetic makeup, and their findings suggested that there are, in fact, 19 specific genetic spots linked to a general chance of getting addicted to any substance and 47 spots linked to addiction to specific substances for people of European descent.

These genetic spots mainly affect how dopamine, a brain chemical that makes us feel good, is managed in our bodies. The study suggests that the way our body handles this chemical, rather than the chemical itself, might make some people more prone to addiction than others. Interestingly, they also discovered that these genetic traits could predict a higher chance of developing mental health conditions, as well as chronic pain.

Brain Changes Are Being Traced for Future Targeted Drug Addiction Treatments

Researchers at the Institute for Basic Biomedical Sciences (IBBS) are looking at how chronic drug use causes lasting changes in brain functionality, hopefully providing a basis for new, effective drug addiction treatments in the future.

These scientific studies are focused on understanding the molecular dynamics linked to how we learn and form memories and how our brain activity changes because of the negative consequences of prolonged exposure to drugs.

Their research has examined how chronic drug abuse impacts the brain’s neuronal network, essentially rewiring the brain to prioritise drug-related memories and cravings.

What makes this research particularly promising for the future of addiction treatment is the potential to develop interventions that can reverse the brain’s addiction-induced changes.

It’s argued that although we have treatment strategies known to be effective, traditional treatment routes, which focus on managing physical cravings through counselling and abstinence, do not entirely address the underlying neural modifications. The IBBS researchers’ work suggests a future where treatments could directly target and modify the addicted brain’s connections – offering a potentially more permanent solution to addiction when used in conjunction with traditional treatment routes.

Advancements in Neuromodulation for Addiction Treatment

Innovative approaches to neuromodulation, which are techniques that alter brain activity without causing damage, are currently being studied as a potential avenue for substance abuse, specifically to prevent relapse.

One study identified that damage to specific brain areas could lead to the treatment for cigarette smoking and cessation, suggesting potential targets for other addiction treatments. This has led to the exploration of Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) and Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS), which adjust brain activity in areas implicated in addiction. TMS is already in use for various conditions, while DBS clinical trials are exploring treatments for opioid use disorders, cannabis use disorder, alcohol addiction, cocaine addiction and methamphetamine addiction.

One significant advancement is the use of closed-loop brain-machine interfaces, which have shown promise in treating movement disorders and are now being adapted for substance use disorder treatment. This essentially involves detecting brain activity that signals a craving or potential relapse and immediately delivering electrical stimulation to counteract it.

Recently, the focus has shifted towards non-invasive methods (e.g. low-intensity ultrasound), which can target deep brain regions involved in addiction. This method, combined with the concept of wearable devices, could really change how addiction we treat substance or alcohol use disorders – by offering real-time, non-invasive interventions.

These technologies not only represent a significant leap towards managing substance use disorders but also hold the potential to fundamentally change our approach to treating addiction, offering hope for a future where this condition can be effectively controlled.

A Potential New Treatment Option to Reduce Addiction Cravings

Researchers from Florida University might have found a way to help people with addiction reduce their cravings. The treatment is called Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprocessing (EMDR), and it’s already been found successful in treating various mental illness cases. The research around how this could potentially help with substance use disorders hasn’t yet been explored in the same depth.

They used a therapy that involves eye movements and some guided instructions to help change how the brain processes cravings and negative thoughts related to addiction.

The study found that this specific therapy, combining eye movements and guided instructions, was effective in reducing cravings for substances in people with addiction. This therapy, either alone or combined with cognitive behavioural therapy, helped lessen the intense desires and negative thoughts that often accompany addiction, offering a potentially promising approach to addiction treatment, as well as improving treatment outcomes in the future.

Alcohol Use Disorder Linked to Changes to the Amygdala

A team led by Marisa Roberto, a professor at Scripps Research, has discovered a potential route that could change how we treat specifically alcohol use disorder. The focus of their study is a small part of the brain called the amygdala, which influences our emotions, behaviours, and motivation. However, it’s also linked to alcohol abuse.

Roberto and her team found that chronic alcohol consumption causes harmful changes in the amygdala, affecting anti-inflammatory mechanisms and the activity of brain cells, which can cause addiction. They discovered that an immune protein called Interleukin 10 (IL-10), known for its anti-inflammatory properties, plays a significant role in this process.

By enhancing IL-10 signalling in the brain, the researchers were able to reverse these adverse effects and reduce alcohol use. This adjustment led to a noticeable decrease in anxiety and the desire to consume alcohol, presenting a promising potential treatment option for alcohol use disorder (AUD).

Additionally, the research involved collaboration with Silke Paust and her research team, who identified specific immune cells in the brain affected by chronic alcohol use. They noted an overall increase in specific immune cells across the brain but a decrease in IL-10 levels and signalling in the amygdala, highlighting a unique immune response in this region to alcohol.

This study could change our understanding of the relationship between the immune system, the brain, and alcohol addiction. It points towards anti-inflammatory treatments as a new avenue for addressing AUD.


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