The Science of Addiction: Is there a cure for the stigmatised illness?

Addiction is a disease, but it’s also an epidemic. It affects millions and costs billions in healthcare expenses each year. The stigma surrounding addiction has made treatment difficult to access, with many people suffering alone or being forced into rehab centres that are often far from their homes. But what if we could find a way to treat this condition without having to go through all those hoops? What if we could make addiction a curable illness?

Defining what addiction is can be a complex task, as it involves both physical and psychological factors. However, one thing most experts agree on is that addiction is not just about drugs; it’s about any substance or behaviour that causes harm to the body and mind.

This includes alcohol, tobacco, prescription medications, illegal substances like cocaine and heroin, gambling, sex, shopping, eating disorders, and even activities like workaholism, exercise dependence, internet dependency, video game dependency, porn addiction, social media addiction, etc.

Furthermore, there are different opinions around what constitutes something being “addictive”, or whether the term “addictive” should be used at all.

One thing that many can agree on, is the notion that addiction is a psychological manifestation of symptoms, and substances or unhealthy behaviours are coping mechanisms in some form.

So is there a one-size-fits-all approach to treating addiction?

There isn’t really a single answer here, because every person’s situation will differ depending on how they define themselves, where they live, what they’re addicted to, and their past experiences and trauma. There are however certain things you should consider when trying to understand why someone might become addicted to a particular substance or activity. These include:

1) Genetics – Family members who struggle with addiction increase the chances that another family member will develop addiction issues. However, this doesn’t necessarily explain the genetic aspect of addiction, because ultimately they can caused by sociological factors.

2) Environment – The environment however, does play a huge role in whether an individual will increase their risk of developing addiction, especially early childhood development. For example, children raised in poverty have higher rates of drug use than wealthier peers. Interestingly, substance use is more prevalent in White and Hispanic ethnic groups.

3) Trauma – People who experience traumatic events during their lives are more likely to suffer from mental health problems later in life. One study found that individuals who experienced sexual abuse were at greater risk of becoming addicts later in life.

Another study showed that women who had been raped were twice as likely to develop alcoholism compared to other women.

While women were far more likely to develop alcohol problems as a result of past trauma, it needs to be said that men on the whole, remain at a far greater risk of suicide as a result of childhood trauma.

4) Dual Diagnosis – Addiction & ADHD

People who also have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, tend to show increased impulsivity and poor decision making skills. This means that people with both addictions and ADHD are often unable to control their impulses and make rational decisions about their behaviour. One could argue then, that those with impulsive minds are more likely to abuse substances, which results in higher rates of addiction. Furthermore, those who have pre-existing mental health problems are more likely to use substances are a form of self-medicating.

New Advancements in Addiction Treatment

In recent years, new developments in treatment methods have emerged. Some of these treatments focus on helping patients manage cravings and withdrawal symptoms while others aim to help them cope with stressors such as financial difficulties. Here we look at three different types of treatment options available today.

Medication Based Treatments

These medications work by targeting specific neurotransmitters within the brain. They may reduce anxiety, depression, insomnia, pain, and improve concentration levels.

EMDR & Addiction

Eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing, is an effective psychotherapy technique used to treat posttraumatic stress disorders. EMDR involves using rapid eye movements to stimulate memory recall and processing of negative memories associated with PTSD. The theory behind this method is that when one recalls painful experiences through visual imagery, the emotional impact can be reduced. Research on its effectiveness for addiction is ongoing?

Psychedelics & Addiction

There has been some research into psychedelic compounds being used to aid in treating substance dependence. These include LSD, psilocybin mushrooms, MDMA, DMT, mescaline, ayahuasca, ibogaine, ketamine, and 2C-B -N, N-diisopropylamine). However, most studies have only involved small sample sizes and short periods of time, and research is ongoing.

But many questions remain as to whether these new treatments will be effective on a larger scale, given what we know about addiction, and the complexities surrounding the human psyche on an individual level.

We spoke with a leading addiction expert in the UK, rehab owner Paul Spanjar of the Providence Projects. We asked him what he thought on new technological & scientific advancements in the addiction field.

He said: “Any technology that can assist with feelings of isolation or offer relapse prevention techniques during difficult times are welcomed. While I remain open to the possibility of other forms of medication based therapies, what we really need to be focusing on is prevention”.

Paul added: “One of the benefits of rehabilitation is that it is client-centric, and each individual will have their own story with their own unique challenges and needs. Treating addiction is more than just fixing the drug or alcohol use, it’s about helping the individual find happiness and fulfilment without them. In the same way that antidepressants help people feel less depressed, the individual will still need a plan in place”.

Conclusion

There’s no doubt that science continues to play a huge role in addiction treatment. As our understanding grows so does our ability to provide better care for those suffering from mental health issues like addiction. But despite all the advances made over the last few decades, there remains much to learn about how best to support individuals struggling.

What works for one person may not work for another, so while there may not be a one-size-fits-all approach, having access to multiple treatment options may be our best option for now.

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