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The science of addiction: what brain research tell us about drug addiction.

The impact of addiction can be far-reaching:

* Cardiovascular disease

* Stroke

* Cancer


* Hepatitis C

* Lung disease

* Obesity

* Mental disorders

How serious is drug addiction?

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), drug addiction is "a chronic, relapsing disease, characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, and by neurochemical and molecular changes in the brain." Like other chronic diseases, drug addiction can seriously impair the functioning of the body's organs. It can also increase the risk of contracting other diseases, such as HIV and viral hepatitis, not just among those who inject drugs, but also through risky behaviors stemming from drug-impaired judgment.

Drug addiction often results from drug abuse, which is the use of illegal drugs or the inappropriate use of legal drugs to produce pleasure, to alleviate stress, or to alter or avoid reality (or all three). Risk factors for addiction and protective factors against it (see table below) can be environmental as well as genetic. Scientists estimate that genetic factors, including environmental effects on these genes, account for between 40 and 60 percent of a person's vulnerability to addiction. Recent research has begun to uncover which genes make a person more vulnerable, which genes protect a person against addiction, and how one's genes and environment interact. There is also evidence that individuals with mental disorders have a much greater risk of drug abuse and addiction than the general population.

How Drugs Change a Healthy Brain

Cocaine abuse can cause changes in the brain. The PET (positron emission tomography) scans above show a normal brain, the brain of an abuser who hasn't taken cocaine in 10 days, and the brain of an abuser who hasn't taken cocaine in 100 days. Even after 100 days without the drug, the activity (yellow) in the cocaine abuser's brains is still much less than in the normal brains.

What Is Addiction?

* Addiction is a complex disease. No single factor can predict who will become addicted to drugs. Addiction is influenced by a tangle of factors involving one's genes, environment, and age of first use.

* Addiction is a developmental disease. It usually begins in adolescence, even childhood, when the brain is continuing to undergo changes. The prefrontal cortex--located just behind the forehead--governs judgment and decision-making functions and is the last part of the brain to develop. This fact may help explain why teens are prone to risk-taking, and why they are also particularly vulnerable to drug abuse. It also explains why exposure to drugs during the teen years may affect the likelihood of someone becoming an addict in the future.

* Prevention and early intervention work best in the teen years. Because the teen brain is still developing, it may be more receptive to interventions to alter the course of addiction. Research has shown many risk factors that lead to drug abuse and addiction: mental illness, physical or sexual abuse, aggressive behavior, academic problems, poor social skills, and poor parent-child relations. This knowledge, combined with better understanding of how the teen brain works, can be applied to prevent drug abuse from starting or to intervene early to stop it when warning signs emerge.

One-Time Drug Use Can Set Stage for Replace

In this experiment, rats pressed a lever in response to a cue (white noise) that had originally indicated access to cocaine even a year after the cue stopped being associated with drug availability. This is because there is a very strong association in the brain between the drug experience and the setting of the drug experience. Even a long-dormant craving may be triggered simply by encountering people, places, and things that were present during a previous drug usage--another reason never to use drugs of abuse even once.


Prevention Resources

* NIDA and other organizations have spearheaded a number of programs to help prevent addiction, including:

--Family-based: Teaching parents better communication skills, appropriate discipline styles, and firm and consistent rule enforcement

--School-based: Building young people's skills in the areas of peer relationships, self-control, coping, and drug-refusal

--Community-based: Working with civic, religious, law enforcement, and government organizations to strengthen anti-drug norms and pro-social behaviors

* For more information on effective prevention programs, visit:

* For help with a drug problem, call the National Addiction Treatment Hotline at 1-800-622-HELP or go to

* For more information on healthy effects of drugs and on effective prevention and treatment approaches based on addiction research, visit NIDA at and

Lesson Plan Reproducible

Preparation: Before displaying the lesson, make two photocopies of the Student Activity Reproducible for a pre- and post-lesson quiz.

Lesson 1: Heads Up: What Do You Know About the Science of Addiction?


To test students' self-knowledge about drug addiction before and after reading the article.


Life Science; Science in Personal and Social Perspective


* Ask students, What do you think addiction is? and How do drugs affect the brain to cause addiction? Give students time for discussion.

* Distribute copies of the Student Activity Reproducible. Tell students to write their name on the paper, and answer the questions.

* I Have students silently read the article "The Science of Addiction" in their magazine. When they have finished, begin a discussion by asking: Why is the teen brain especially susceptible to the effect of drug abuse? What are the some of the risk factor that lead to drug abuse and addiction? How can prescription drugs be just dangerous street drugs?

* After the discussion, tell students you are going to find out if they know more about drug addiction and their brains than they did before.

* Wrap up the lesson by asking students: Why are drugs addictive? What can you do to prevent drug addiction?

What Do You Know About the Science of Addiction?

Answer the questions below to find out what you know about drugs and drug addiction. For multiple choice questions, there may be more than one answer.

1. Drug addiction can be defined as

a. a bad habit.

b. the use of illegal drugs

c. a chronic, relapsing disease.

d. a complex and developmental disease.

2. Which of the following are characteristics of the disease of drug addiction?

a. compulsive drug seeking

b. neurochemical changes in the brain

c. molecular changes in the brain

d. all of the above

3. The brain recognizes the prescription drug OxyContin in the same way that it recognizes

a. caffeine.

b. heroin.

c. Vicodin.

d. water.

4. The disease of drug addiction is associated with


b. viral hepatitis.

c. mental disorders.

d. none of the above.

5. The prefrontal cortex--located just behind the forehead--is the part of the brain that governs

a. judgment and decision-making.

b. speech.

c. vision.

d. movement.

6. The PET in "PET scans" stands for

a. positron emission tomography.

b. proton emulsion tomography.

c. positron emission temperature.

d. proton-electron temperature.

7. Which of the following is a factor in whether someone becomes addicted to drugs?

a. genes

b. environment

c. age of first use

d. none of the above

8. Exposure to drugs during the teen years may affect the likelihood of someone becoming an addict in the future.

a. true

b. false

9. Anyone who sells medications prescribed to them could be called a drug dealer and is subject to criminal prosecution.

a. true

b. false

10. People, places, and things related to a particular drug experience can, at a later time, trigger another drug experience.

a. true

b. false


1. c & d; 2. d; 3. b & c; 4. a, b, & c; 5. a; 6. a; 7. a, b, & c; 8. true; 9. true; 10. true.

Risk Factors Influencers Protective Factors

Early Aggressive Self Self-Control
Lack of Parental Family Parental
 Supervision Monitoring
Substance Abuse Peers Academic
Drug Availability School Anti-Drug Use
Poverty Community Strong Neighborhood
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Article Details
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Publication:Junior Scholastic
Date:Oct 30, 2006
Previous Article:Vicodin and OxyContin: legal but dangerous.
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