How Science Is Unlocking the Secrets of Addiction

We’re learning more about the craving that fuels self-defeating habits—and how new discoveries can help us kick the habit.

From National Geographic

Addiction hijacks the brain’s neural pathways. Scientists are challenging the view that it’s a moral failing and researching treatments that could offer an exit from the cycle of desire, bingeing, and withdrawal that traps tens of millions of people. Janna Raine became addicted to heroin two decades ago after taking prescription pain pills for a work injury. Last year she was living in a homeless encampment under a Seattle freeway.

By analyzing brain scans of recovering cocaine addicts, clinical neuroscientist Anna Rose Childress, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, studies how subliminal drug cues excite the brain’s reward system and contribute to relapse. When she showed images such as the one of cocaine on the left screen to patients for 33 milliseconds, their reward circuitry was stimulated. She’s trying to find medications that can prevent this activation and keep people from falling prey to “unseen” triggers.

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