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Addiction and Brain Circuits

Humans have always struggled with addictions to mind-altering substances. Yet, only in the past few decades have neuroscientists begun to understand precisely how these substances affect the brain.

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Introduction

Addiction is a chronic brain disease that causes people to lose their ability to resist a craving, despite negative physical, personal, or social consequences. People seek out nicotine and alcohol, or engage in gambling, because it makes them feel good or lessens feelings of stress and sadness. Many abused drugs produce a pleasurable feeling by exciting cells in the brain’s reward center. With repeated use, drugs can change the structure of the brain and its chemical makeup. But why can some people casually drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes, while others fight to kick the habit? Neuroscience research, both in human and animal studies, is helping scientists identify key factors that influence susceptibility to addiction, such as a person’s genetic makeup, vulnerability to stress, and the age they start engaging in the behavior. Slowly but surely, new studies are unraveling clues about processes in the brain that influence the likelihood of drug relapse. Such insights may help improve rehabilitation programs and drive down the global cost of addiction.

Discoveries

How does marijuana affect brain function?

Source: Society for Neuroscience
The main active ingredient in marijuana alters the normal communication between cells and circuits in the brain.

Image of the Week: The Cocaine Brain

Source: Society for Neuroscience
Experiments with mice show how much cocaine exposure physically changes the brain.

Dopamine and Addiction

Source: Society for Neuroscience

A classic film noir about love, addiction, and dopamine. Learn how drugs affect the brain in this submission to the 2011 Brain Awareness Video Contest and start working on your own video today!


Animal Research Advances Effort to Develop Vaccines Against Cocaine, Heroin Abuse

Source: National Institute on Drug Abuse
To block the effects of abused drugs, scientists recruit the immune system.

Addiction in the News

Study Finds Brain Changes in Young Marijuana Users

Source: The Boston Globe
Date: 15 April 2014
Occasional marijuana smokers show abnormalities in two key areas of their brain related to emotion, motivation, and decision making, according to a new study.

Brain Changes in an Addict Make it Hard to Resist Heroin and Similar Drugs

Source: The Washington Post
Date: 17 Feb 2014
Over the past 20 years, research into drug addiction has identified several chemical and physical changes to the brain brought on by addictive substances.

Quit Smoking Adverts Highlight Toxic Risk to Brain

Source: BBC
Date: 29 Dec 2013
A new public health campaign in England is highlighting the toxic damage tobacco smoke does to vital organs such as the brain, as well as the lungs.