Transcranial magnetic brain stimulation has allowed researchers to reduce how “excited” the brains of chronic cocaine and alcohol users become in response to drug cues.
Drug addiction is a chronic disease affecting 5.4 percent of the population worldwide. In 2016, more than 64,000 people are thought to have died from a drug overdose.
While the exact causes of drug addiction are unknown and researchers do not yet fully understand what causes someone to become addicted to a drug, we do know that, over time, drug abuse triggers changes in the brain that perpetuate the addiction cycle.
For example, we now know that the brain’s reward-processing circuits are thrown off balance in drug addiction, as the brain gets an excessive amount of the neurotransmitter dopamine. Sometimes dubbed the “sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll” neurotransmitter, dopamine plays a crucial role in reward-mediated motivation and learning, as well as in experiencing pleasure.
When the brain gets too much dopamine from drugs, it learns to continue to search for that “high” in favor of the “lesser” pleasure that it would normally get from other, daily rewards, such as consuming a chocolate bar or getting recognition at work.
These neurobiological underpinnings make addiction a so-called brain disease. Despite this, until now, researchers had not come up with treatments aimed at the neural circuits involved in the condition.
Now, however, researchers at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston may have found a treatment that successfully targets these brain circuits.
Ways to avoid addiction
1. Effectively deal with peer pressure. The biggest reason teens start using drugs is because their friends utilize peer pressure. No one likes to be left out, and teens (and yes, some adults, too) find themselves doing things they normally wouldn’t do, just to fit in. In these cases, you need to either find a better group of friends that won’t pressure you into doing harmful things, or you need to find a good way to say no. Teens should prepare a good excuse or plan ahead of time, to keep from giving into tempting situations
2. Deal with life pressure. People today are overworked and overwhelmed, and often feel like a good break or a reward is deserved. But in the end, drugs only make life more stressful — and many of us all too often fail to recognize this in the moment. To prevent using drugs as a reward, find other ways to handle stress and unwind. Take up exercising, read a good book, volunteer with the needy, create something. Anything positive and relaxing helps take the mind off using drugs to relieve stress.
3. Seek help for mental illness. Mental illness and substance abuse often go hand-in-hand. Those with a mental illness may turn to drugs as a way to ease the pain. Those suffering from some form of mental illness, such as anxiety, depression or post-traumatic stress disorder should seek the help of a trained professional for treatment before it leads to substance abuse.
4. Examine the risk factors. If you’re aware of the biological, environmental and physical risk factors you possess, you’re more likely to overcome them. A history of substance abuse in the family, living in a social setting that glorifies drug abuse and/or family life that models drug abuse can be risk factors.
5. Keep a well-balanced life. People take up drugs when something in their life is not working, or when they’re unhappy about their lives or where their lives are going. Look at life’s big picture, and have priorities in order.