In an ideal world, it would be possible to diagnose addiction in the same way we diagnose issues with our cars, where a technician connects it to a computer and runs a diagnostic check that instantly identifies the issues that need dealing with. It would be even better if we were able to detect addiction vulnerabilities earlier on so that treatment could prevent addiction altogether.
Thanks to the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the National Institute of Health and their 2016 funding of a $12 million research program by The Jackson Laboratory in Maine, early detection of potential addiction may soon be a reality.
The award has been used to create a new Center for Systems Neurogenetics of Addiction, (CSNA) with the remit of researching the genetics behind a propensity for addiction. For many years, addiction has been accepted as a mental illness and its effect on the brain’s neurotransmitters identified and understood. However, whether there is genetic evidence to indicate the seeds of addiction are present from birth is something that CSNA seeks to establish with its neurogenetic research.
Research Seeks to Debunk Addiction Myths
Despite our better understanding of addiction, society still clings to misconceptions surrounding the subject and sufferers are often victims of social stigma. Beliefs that addiction is the direct result of poor moral behavior and that it is a lifestyle choice of uneducated people from deprived backgrounds although outdated are still widely held in today’s society. It is hoped that this new research will find that just as people have a genetic disposition to getting cancer, the same is true of addiction and that there are preventative treatments to eliminate early signs of the disease.
Social stigma is so significant with regard to alcohol or drug addiction that it prevents many people needing drug and alcohol rehab from seeking it. Resistance to the idea of openly admitting to being out of control of drinking or taking drugs is often the result of fear of being judged harshly by others. These are fundamental reasons many addicts don’t check themselves into drug and alcohol rehab centers and sometimes the consequences can be fatal. Removing social stigma becomes easier with a greater understanding of the addiction disease, which CSNA hopes to provide with its research in the near future.
How Genetics Could Play a Part in Developing Addiction
There is likely to be a tangible reason why some people are more likely to develop addiction than others and the answer lies somewhere in the brain. Every individual responds to the stimulus from drugs and alcohol in varying degrees both physically and emotionally and the part of the brain that drives compulsive behavior determines whether these responses are likely to result in addiction.
Scientists believe that the mechanisms of addiction can be unraveled through the research program by using mice for experimental purposes.
The mice will have various traits tested including impulsive behavior, responses to certain drugs, reward-seeking and sleep patterns to provide data to build a sophisticated analysis tool for use by the global research community. Ultimately, the research seeks to establish a way of determining an individual’s genetic capacity for self-control to see if there is an early indication of the likelihood of addiction. Data collected by the research is set to help in the creation of more effective treatment programs for alcohol and drug rehab.
Will Science One Day Prevent Addiction before it Starts?
Ultimately, the objective of the CSNA’s research into the neurogenetics of addiction is to find a way of early identification of the likelihood of addiction in an individual with a view to developing a preventative treatment. It is also intended to create a mechanism to treat those already addicted more effectively by providing a more accurate genetic diagnosis to complement assessments conducted by drug and alcohol treatment centers.
For many people with the disease, scientific breakthroughs in the area of addiction offer hope, which is why it is good to know that research into its genetic origins is continuing. It is hoped that future generations will benefit from this kind of research by preventing the addiction disease from developing in the first place. Those people who are currently fighting addiction can also benefit from a better understanding of their disease and the additional tools that will be available to medical professionals for more effective drug and alcohol rehab.