Addiction is a controversial topic. There are many people who do not accept its status as a disease, concluding that willpower is the sole solution to a person’s addictive urges.
Researchers looking for a cure for addiction at the University of Pennsylvania, however, know this is not the case.
Using MRI to scan the brains of participants in the study, researchers have discovered that it is possible to predict which patients will succeed in overcoming their addictions with certain treatments–and which patients are more likely to relapse. Participants in the study are shown images of drug paraphernalia such as crushed up pills or a syringe while the researchers study how different regions of the brain react to this stimulus.
Two areas of the brain in particular, the “stop” region in the front of the brain which understands consequences, and the “go” system deep within the brain which drives the motivation for personal reward and survival, are being looked at in the study. When these two crucial systems within a patient’s brain are not communicating, it is less likely that they will respond positively to treatment.
Teresa Franklin, director of nicotine and marijuana MRI studies at Penn, lost her brother to drugs in the 1990s. “This is not something that gets better in 12 weeks of treatment,” she says. “This is a lifelong process where the brain has to be retrained. Just as if you have diabetes or high blood pressure or a heart condition, you have to change your lifestyle and you may need medication.”
For more information on the study click here.