Smoke billows through the dimly lit basement. The room is silent, except for the low muffled breath of a man slouched upon a tattered sofa. As the smoke begins to rise and dissipate into the darkness of the room, the man sinks lower and lower into the sofa. Although the basement appears cold and dark, much like a prison cell, the true shackles upon this man is his addiction to methamphetamines. His once successful and satisfying life is a mere memory, his happiness disappearing much like the smoke into the air. For an addict breaking the cycle of using is almost impossible, especially with a drug of this caliber. With each dose of the lethal substance, the addict becomes less likely to break his habits and therefore hurtles himself towards a life of despair and ultimately death. But what if this man’s life could be saved?
Throughout our lives we will meet someone who has struggled and lost the battle with addiction. We feel powerless and hopeless because our efforts can not prevail over the strangle hold drugs take on the body and mind. However, through the efforts of researchers in the neurolobiological, saving these people’s lives no longer is wishful thinking, but rather a promising possibility. Mankind has been plagued with addiction for as long as time has existed, but with the new drugs that permeate our world the urgency for a cure for addiction is never more present. If a neurological cure cannot be found for addiction, more powerful and addictive drugs have the potential to plague mankind. A cure is needed for our future. Perhaps there is one closer than we think?
A recent study conducted by Dr. Rita Z. Goldstein in the Trends in Cognitive Sciences Journal implies that the futility of addiction may simply be a thought of the past. The key word in this is thought; the study asserts that addiction can possibly be cured by a combination of awareness about the severity of one’s addiction as well as a neurologically based treatment. Through a series of studies it is determined that addiction undermines a person’s ability to recognize their addiction as a problem because the addiction itself causes neural circuits to act in a dysfunctional way. Therefore, an addict is simply not in denial, but their neurological make up is distorted causing them to be unaware of their social, emotional, and cognitive state. This state of unawareness is analogous to the effects that a psychological disease, such as schizophrenia, takes on the mind. Similarly in addiction, the affected party experiences a disconnect between what they believe is happening and what is actually happening.
In an examination of emotional responses between a group of heavy cocaine users and non-users this incongruity of reality was revealed. Certain images were presented to each subject, ranging from pleasant, neutral, unpleasant, and cocaine, that showed in each instance the groups differed greatly in their response. This is due to the power that cocaine takes on perception, which is controlled through our neurobiological make up. The study suggests that the skewed results in these responses is due to the adverse effects that drugs have on our body’s homeostasis. The physiological condition of our body influences our perception, and therefore can change how we interpret signals from our body.
From a neurological standpoint the study examined how the anterior insula and cingulate influence our perceptions of reality. An integral part of the study revealed that damage to the anterior cingulate causes errors in awareness, which motivate the behavior of drug use. In contrast however, a recent study reveals that damage to the anterior insula actually benefits the drug users because it is extremely important in the rewards system of the brain. For example, damage in insula activity in rats with prolonged addiction to amphetamines allowed them to quit their addiction with few problems. In similar studies, a lesion in the right insula revealed that smokers were infinitely less likely to have relapses in comparison to smokers who were not given this lesion. These findings in rats however are revolutionary because it was once believed that damage in insula activity could only be attributed to the relief of addiction in smokers. Now, these findings have profound implications for the liberation of addiction in other drugs. The culmination of this research asserts that the awareness and control of addiction can be dramatically influenced by the proper workings of the anterior cingulate and the careful manipulation of the insula activity.
In the near future, this research will have real world implications that could possibly save the lives of countless people facing addiction. In conjunction, intensive cognitive training that stresses self-awareness and pharmacological practices could end addiction forever. In the study on amphetamine addicted rats an injection of lidocaine quelled their addiction to this deadly drug by inhibiting the functionality of insula activity. Although additional studies are needed, neurobiologists will be able to refine and apply their knowledge of how insula activities control addiction and perhaps find a permanent cure.
Although the article appeared extremely complex and foreboding, the underlying message about addiction and the possibility of a cure was easy to grasp. After completing the research and understanding the article, the ideas presented within it are amazing. The real world implications of this are not only astounding, but tangible. Whether a person is addicted to a drug or the ramifications of the actions of an addict influence them, everyone is impacted by addiction in some way. The possibility of a long-term and effective cure for this is simply amazing. The study leaves a window of research and application of drug addiction open, but I am confident that through this window there is a cure.
Goldstein , Rita. "The Neurocircuitry of Impaired Insight in Drug Addiction." Trends in Cognitive Sciences (2009): 1-14. Web. 13 Sep 2009.