Addiction as A Disease and The Odds of Recovery | AspenRidge

Substance addiction is one of the most widely studied physical disorders on the face of the planet.

But despite so much research being done to further advancements in the field, many people (and even treatment programs) are simply stuck in the past when it comes to what addiction really is.

That’s why it’s crucial for the success of recovery and for the progression of addiction treatment that we continue to incorporate evidence-based techniques into our recovery programs.

Doing so not only helps to dispel the belief of archaic treatment methods that addiction is actually a moral failing, but also helps to increase the likelihood of living a sober, drug-free life for those in need of treatment.

These eleven recent studies from 2017 are shedding light on the nature of addiction and helping to promote a science-based approach to treatment.

Researchers Successfully Treat Heroin Addiction with Gene-Altering Compound

A new study has identified a major contributor to heroin addiction. This process, known as histone acetylation, was found to correspond directly with the extent of an individual’s heroin use. The more they’ve used, the higher the levels of their excessive acetylation.

Using a compound called JQ1 which was originally developed to help in treating cancer by inhibiting acetylation, researchers were able to reduce heroin seeking behaviors in opioid addicted lab rats.

The findings shed light on the nature of addiction and also could point to a brighter future for heroin addicts thanks to this compound.

Genetic Factors Increasingly Shown to Play a Big Role in Underlying Addictions

Scientists have further developed the case for gene-based factors controlling addiction with a recent study from the Boston University Medical Center. Researchers found that one gene in particular, casein kinase1-epsilon (CSNK1E), plays a major role in the effects of opioids in lab rats.

By impairing the function of this specific gene, the team was able to show that test rats experienced a heightened sense of euphoria with opioids as well as an increased sensitivity to binge eating in female rats.

This gene is also known to have a crucial role in circadian rhythms and could open the door to further research into its role in addiction. What’s more, the study shows that addiction and relapse for some can be traced back to specific genes.

Evidence for Reward Center Rebalancing in Alcohol Addiction Treatment

Our goal-directed behavior is regulated in part by the dorsal striatum. Here, there are two pathways that regulate its function: the “Go” pathway and the “No-Go” pathway. These correspond to motivation to do something and the voice on our shoulder telling us not to do another.

Researchers found in a recent study published in Biological Psychiatry that excessive alcohol intake could inhibit the function of the No-Go pathway and boost the power of the Go pathway, possibly explaining a key driving factor for alcoholism.

What’s more, shining the light on this mechanism could have implications in a variety of other disorders as well including other substance use disorders, mood disorders, and even OCD. It may also pave the way for new evidence-based treatment methods to curb addictive behaviors.

Area of Brain That Corresponds with Addiction Could Be Activated Earlier Than Previously Thought in Cocaine Users

This study from McGill University shows that while there are certain brain signals that are characteristic of habitual cocaine addicts, these same signals can be seen in non-dependent recreational cocaine abusers as well.

Researchers found that, while it was previously believed that only an addict’s cravings were visually cued in the dorsal striatum, non-habitual users actually showed the same brain activity when presented with visual cues as well.

The findings suggest that addiction in non-dependent cocaine users might start much earlier than previously believed and, as such, could warrant earlier addiction interventions concerning the drug.

Alcohol Exposure Before Birth Could Make Teens More Likely to Drink Later

A new study that comes from the American Physiological Society (APS) suggests that fetal alcohol exposure could in fact lead to physical changes that could contribute to alcoholism in the future.

Researchers found in test mice exposed to alcohol in utero that their aversion to taste and irritation factors associated with drinking alcohol were much less pronounced than the control group.

This might be one factor that contributes to a higher risk of alcohol abuse and addiction among children that were exposed to alcohol while in the womb.

National Survey Shows that Most People Don’t Recognize Prescription Drug Abuse as A Treatable Problem

In a national survey comprised of nearly 4,600 participants, researchers at Michigan State University concluded that the public still has a lot to learn about the dangers of prescription drug abuse.

They found that nearly 8 out of 10 people don’t think of prescription drug abuse as a problem and almost one third of respondents were unable to recognize the signs of an abuse problem altogether.

The researchers hope that these numbers could point to the need to expand education efforts, especially since the opioid epidemic only continues to worsen.

People with Opioid Use Disorder Less Likely to Get the Care They Need with General Medical Care

A shocking new study from Wolters Kluwer Health found that almost one-fifth of patients that had an opioid use disorder had died within four years of receiving treatment from general medical care facilities.

While researchers admit the average age of these patients was around 40 years old, they point to the fact that many of these patients likely died of complications that could have been prevented had the opioid addiction been spotted earlier.

The takeaway here, they say, is that general care practitioners should be better equipped to both identify and treat patients with such use disorders. This is especially important when it comes to pain management patients due to the rising opioid epidemic.

Men and Women’s Brain Reward System Might Be Impacted Differently by Alcoholism

A study conducted by the Massachusetts General Hospital in collaboration with the Boston University School of Medicine found that men and women may in fact have different physiological responses to addiction.

The researchers found that two reward structures located in the brain – the amygdala and the hippocampus – were 4.4% larger in alcoholic women than non-alcoholic women. Conversely, alcoholic men’s structures were 4.1% smaller than non-alcoholic men.

The implications here are that men and women may be physically hardwired to respond differently to addiction which could point to the importance of developing gender-based treatment methods for addiction.

Researchers Find a ‘Switch’ In the Brain That Seems to Drive Alcohol Dependence

Scientists from the Scripps Research Institute found new evidence of a mechanism that controls voluntary alcohol consumption in non-alcohol dependent lab rats as well as alcohol dependent ones.

The area of the brain known as the central amygdala (CeA) has been shown to be highly active when it comes to alcohol consumption. But when alcoholic and non-alcoholic rats were compared, researchers noticed that the area is stimulated by two completely different methods.

Non-alcoholic rat CeAs were activated by calcium channels in the areas called LTCCs. When these LTCCs were blocked, voluntary alcohol consumption was reduced.

In alcoholic rats however, the area’s activity was driven by a hormone called CRF and its receptor, CRF1. Researchers found that blocking this receptor reduced alcohol consumption in these alcoholic mice.

What this could mean for the future of addiction treatment is the development of highly personalized recovery programs that can better target an individual’s specific neuro-chemistry based on their addiction level. That means more effective recovery and less relapses.

Scientists Identify Why Stress So Often Leads to Relapse, And How to Stop It

A recent study from Brown University showed that stress, a key component in substance abuse relapse, can have a detrimental effect on brain chemical regulation for days. They also showed that by activating a specific receptor, the chemical processes that might trigger relapse can be halted entirely.

Researchers found that stress interacts with a certain kind of receptor (known as kORs) that inhibits the production of GABA. This particular neurotransmitter has been shown to be crucial in stopping dopamine production in certain areas which could result in cocaine-seeking behaviors.

By activating a certain neuron known as the JNK neurons, researchers were able to resume GABA production in the area and effectively reverse the chemical processes that could lead to relapse.

These findings could lead to developing a drug that can curb drug-seeking behaviors and could also be taken after a stressful change has already occurred.

Researchers Discover a New Neuronal Growth in Meth Addicts That Could Be Causing Frequent Relapse

Methamphetamine addiction has a notoriously high rate of relapse – around 88%. Scientists from the Scripps Research Institute have found that this might be due in part to a unique physiological change in the brain of a meth addict.

Researchers found that meth appears to hijack the natural process of neuron growth in the learning portion of the brain, suggesting that meth use actually results in creating more neurons to strengthen drug-based memories.

Researchers then showed that they could block relapse by giving test animals a small synthetic molecule that prevents new neuron growth.

The findings could point to an entirely new way of combating relapse for meth users.

What the Science in 2017 Is Telling Us

These recent studies about the nature of addiction and substance abuse all help to paint a picture of drug dependence that’s constantly changing but is becoming more evidence-based with each passing day.

They are also contributing to an increasing need for treatments that make use of and are backed by hard evidence, including the conception that addiction is actually a physical disease rather than simply a moral failing.


Elsevier. (2017, March 14). Epigenetic alteration a promising new drug target for heroin use disorder. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 26, 2017 from

Boston University Medical Center. (2017, June 13). Further support for genetic factors underlying addictions. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 26, 2017 from

Elsevier. (2017, May 25). Resetting balance in reward centers may help treat alcohol addiction. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 26, 2017 from

McGill University. (2017, May 23). Recreational cocaine: Brain area involved in addiction activated earlier than thought: Non-dependent users also experience dopamine release in response to drug cues. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 26, 2017 from

American Physiological Society (APS). (2017, May 18). Exposure to alcohol before birth may make drinking more appealing to teens. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 26, 2017 from

Michigan State University. (2017, April 27). National mental-health survey finds widespread ignorance, stigma. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 26, 2017 from

Wolters Kluwer Health. (2017, April 24). ‘Alarmingly high’ risk of death for people with opioid use disorder in general medical care. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 26, 2017 from

Massachusetts General Hospital. (2017, April 20). Effects of alcoholism on the brain’s reward system may be different in women than in men. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 26, 2017 from

Scripps Research Institute. (2017, April 12). Surprising brain change appears to drive alcohol dependence. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 26, 2017 from

University of St George’s London. (2017, April 12). Could ‘love hormone’ help drug addicts stay clean?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 26, 2017 from

Brown University. (2017, April 11). Stress flips cocaine relapse to ‘on’; research switches it back to ‘off’. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 26, 2017 from

Scripps Research Institute. (2017, March 31). Experimental small molecule shows potential in preventing meth relapse. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 26, 2017 from

Elsevier. (2017, March 16). Treating cocaine addiction by reducing our appetite for drugs?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 25, 2017 from

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