People with clinical addictions know first-hand the ravages the disease can take on almost every aspect of their lives. So why do they continue addictive behaviors, even after a period of peaceable abstinence"
Some answers appear rooted in regions of the brain active during decision making.
"It's perhaps not just that people are slaves to pleasure, but that they have trouble thinking through a decision," said Charlotte Boettiger, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and lead author of a study in the December issue of the Journal of Neuroscience that took a novel tack in addiction imaging research.
"Our data suggest there may be a cognitive difference in people with addictions," Boettiger said. "Their brains may not fully process the long-term consequences of their choices. They may compute information less efficiently."
The study also found that a variant of the COMT gene, which controls the level of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the cortex, was associated with a tendency to make impulsive decisions and with high activity in certain brain areas during decision making.
Current medications for addictions are not universally effective; many either mimic the addictive substance to help people get through withdrawal periods or block the substance to prevent its effects. For stimulants, such as methamphetamines, there are no therapies yet, Boettiger said.
"What's exciting about this study is that it suggests a new approach to therapy. We might prescribe medications, such as those used to treat Parkinson's or early Alzheimer's disease, or tailor cognitive therapy to improve executive function," said Boettiger, who led the study as scientist at the University of California, San Francisco's Gallo Clinic and Research Center.
"I am very excited about these results because of their clinical implications," said Dr. Howard Fields, a professor of neurolog
|Contact: Clinton Colmenares|
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill