brain research

Can These Brain Scans Pinpoint Relapse Risk?

Penn State ResearchersIn his landmark report issued late last year, Dr. Vivek Murthy, the United States Surgeon General, made it clear that addiction should be treated like any other clinical, chronic condition. In his 400-page report, Facing Addiction in America, Murthy urged the American public to view the disease of addiction with more compassionate optics. “Addiction is a chronic disease of the brain and it’s one that we have to treat the way we would any other chronic illness: with skill, with compassion and with urgency.”

Taking that same clinical approach, researchers at the Penn State College of Medicine are working to develop a new test that may possibly help doctors predict individuals who are most at risk of relapse.

For the past few years, Scott Bunce has been studying the brain activity of those in recovery from an addiction to heroin and prescription painkillers. To conduct the study, Bunce and his team showed images of drugs and drug paraphernalia to the study participants.

His team then asked the research to participants to state if the images induced cravings for the drug or triggered positive feelings or emotions as a result.

Bunce and his team found that those who reported feeling no temptation as a result of seeing the images yet also exhibited increased brain activity as a result were more likely to experience a relapse.

While additional research still needs to be conducted, the scientists hypothesize that this provides further support that addiction is truly a disease of the brain. Individuals may not intentionally express a desire to use and abuse drugs though their brain chemistry may be prompting them to do just that.

“It’s very important that people understand this is a brain disease,” said Sue Grigson, a professor at Penn State College of Medicine who is involved in the research.

One positive takeaway is that while the brain is indeed altered by the exposure to drugs, it can still recover and heal over time and with the right addiction treatment therapies.

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Brain Scientists

Brain Scientists Honored for Groundbreaking Addiction Research

Three UK-based brain scientists were recently awarded one of the most prestigious titles for their efforts in the field of addiction research.

Peter Dayan, Ray Dolan and Wolfram Schultz were honored by the Lundbeck Foundation’s major research award “The Brain Prize” for their work which explores how learning is involved with the reward system of the brain.

The three prizewinners investigated the underlying mechanics within the brain that contribute to compulsive gambling, drug addiction and alcoholism. Specifically, their research illustrates how dopamine neurons react when there is a difference between expectation and reality.

“The research of these three prizewinners offers far-reaching perspectives on our understanding of human behavior and how we make decisions. Their research has also provided a valuable key to understanding what goes wrong when people succumb to compulsive gambling, drug addiction, obsessive compulsive disorder and schizophrenia,” said Professor Sir Colin Blakemore, the chairman of the foundation’s selection committee.

Using a combination of mathematical modeling and human trials, researchers found that dopamine is released as a response to the difference between a reward we expect and the one we actually receive. The link between the brain’s reward pathway and dopamine has been studied previously. But, this research is new in that it demonstrates the compounding effect of the expectation of that reward.

“Mapping the connection between learning and reward is essential if we’re to understand human behavior and how to improve treatment of brain disorders. With elegant experiments and mathematical models, the prizewinners have described how dopamine plays a crucial role in the motivation that drives learning,” says Professor Morten Kringelbach, a brain researcher at the universities of Oxford and Aarhus.

At Synergy Group Services, we firmly believe in the value of addiction research. Using evidence-based insights, the addiction rehab community as a whole can develop new, and even more effective treatment modalities to help individuals dealing with substance abuse issues. We look forward to seeing more investments in the areas of biomedical and addiction-related research.

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At Synergy Group Services, we specialize in helping individuals with an addiction to drugs or alcohol get the personalized care they deserve. We offer a wide spectrum of holistic services designed to treat the whole person including acupuncture, massage, art therapy and biofeedback in addition to traditional, evidence-based therapies. To learn more about Synergy Group Services, contact us today at (888) 267-8070.

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