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Addiction Prevention: Instant Gratification vs. Future Consequences

Addiction prevention programs that emphasize negative future consequences of substance abuse don’t appear to be working.  Essentially, addicts not only value instant pleasure but they also devalue future consequences.  Despite the fact that now more than ever, schools educate students on the risks of substance abuse, the number of cases involving substance abuse disorders continues to climb.

This is also true regardless of television regularly displaying the destructive nature of drug abuse, including its negative consequences and social repercussions while intoxicated (often surrounding celebrity hype) and the harsh rigors of trying to get and stay sober (often shown through popular reality shows such as “Intervention”). And while educational exposure to the negative, long-term repercussions of drug and alcohol use maybe prevent some people from developing addictions, others remain vulnerable. Scientists are starting to understand why this is the case.

People who are at risk for developing substance abuse disorders tend to exhibit a trait called “delay discounting,” which is a cognitive function that involves circuits in the frontal cortex of the brain that stores and manages information necessary to guide behavior. This trait causes the tendency to devalue rewards and punishments that occur in the future. It is often paralleled by “reward myopia,” a tendency to choose immediate rewarding stimuli like drugs or alcohol. This may be one reason why education alone cannot prevent substance abuse. Studies have found that people vulnerable to addiction, who know that drugs are harmful in the long-run, devalue such information and are drawn to the instant rewarding effects of drugs or alcohol. (Medical News Today)

This is also evident with those suffering from substance dependencies who face legal, financial, or health problems. Studies have shown they almost consistently choose instant gratification as long as the reward is sooner, despite whether the future reward is greater. Neuroscientists understand that a major challenge in preventing and treating addiction is the reduced value of future reward, especially once the brain is hijacked by drugs or alcohol.

In a new study, published in Biological Psychiatry, faculty members of Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute present a strategy that increases the value of future rewards in the minds of substance abuses and those at risk. The researches found that by increasing an individual’s ability to remember decreases the level of discounting future events. The head researcher reiterated, an “improved memory resulted in a greater appreciation of future reward.” (Medical News Today)

The idea for this rehabilitation technique was borrowed from methods used on stroke and traumatic brain injury victims. It involves individuals repeatedly performing working memory tasks. Ultimately, the brain “exercises” were found to promote the functioning of underlying cognitive circuits. When used on substance abuses, this cognitive rehabilitation tool improved working memory and reduced the discounting of delayed rewards. Such a tool may also prove to be invaluable in reaching those most at risk for substance abuse

Substance Abuse Risks Among Veterans

According to substance abuse data from the annual National Survey of Drug Use and Health (2002-2009), female veterans of the United States are much less likely than male veterans to binge drink, smoke cigarettes or use illicit drugs. However, both genders are equally likely to abuse prescription drugs (Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality).

Since the 1970s, the number of women serving in the military has significantly increased with more women deployed to combat areas including combat support. Not only are women dealing with many of the same service-related stressors, they often encounter additional stress from being a female in a male-dominated profession. Despite this, 23 percent reported binge drinking in the past 30 days compared 43 percent of the male servicemen.

Previous studies have shown the increased risks for substance abuse and dependency among veterans compared to non-veterans, but few data analysis have compared men and women veterans. The finding that both genders are equally at-risk for prescription drug abuse is consistent with previous posts about the nation’s epidemic. As reported back in March, the military is trying to curb the amount of prescription drugs given to the troops after a study found that almost 3.8 million prescriptions for painkillers were written by military doctors for troops last year.

“A Parents’ Guide” Helps Talk to Kids About Alcohol

When it comes to talking to kids about alcohol, parents often need all the help they can get. A recent Science Inside Alcohol Project funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism was produced by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Titled “Delaying the First Drink: A Parents’ Guide”, the project focuses on using science as a powerful tool for parents, teachers, and coaches to guide middle-school students away from drinking alcohol. The educational guide discusses research about the impact that alcohol has on a growing body and offers tips on how to talk to kids about drinking.

Studies have shown that kids who start drinking before the age of 15 are five times more likely to have alcohol-related problems as adults. So delaying the first drink could have a large impact of a kid’s life. The researchers for the project said that the focus is often on high school students who are at risk of combining drinking and driving, but fourth, fifth and sixth graders who drink are at risk of later consuming alcohol at higher levels. Drinking also contributes to poor school performance, early sexual activity, and other risky behavior.

When surveyed, a group of 143 seventh graders from several middle schools in the United States showed they knew very little about the science of alcohol, how it affects their bodies, and which of the body’s systems it effects. Nearly half of those questioned did not know how alcohol was made. The easy to read, informational booklet discusses the effects alcohol can have on the brain, especially a developing one. And it discusses the impact that alcohol has on the central nervous system, the digestive system, the heart, the liver and other organs.

The book is available online as a pdf at http://sciencenetlinks.com/media/filer/2011/09/29/delaydrinkingbook.pdf

September is National Drug and Alcohol Recovery Month

In observance of September being National Drug and Alcohol Recovery Month, the national website, Recovery Month, “aims to promote the societal benefits of alcohol and drug use disorder treatment, laud the contributions of treatment providers, and promote the message that recovery from alcohol and drug disorders in all its forms is possible.” Be sure to check it out for stories and event information in your area. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and its Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAT) created the materials being distributed for Recovery Month.

RecoveryMonth.gov website is a wealth of resources. Download the PDF version of the Toolkit (32MB)

The toolkit contains three separate sections and a special section showcasing real-life examples of people in recovery:

  • Media Outreach – Provides instructions to plan and promote Recovery Month activities and events, as well as templates to customize and send to local and online media outlets.
  • Targeted Outreach – Offers audience-specific information about the benefits of recovery, effectiveness of treatment, and tips to overcome challenges during the recovery process.
  • Resources – Provides resources to help plan and prepare for Recovery Month events, as well as tips to cultivate partnerships with other organizations.
  • Join the Voices for Recovery – Presents a snapshot of individuals who are on the road to recovery after struggling with mental and/or substance use disorders.

Email contact@ExecuCareARC.com or comment below and let us know what you and/or your organization are doing to promote awareness and recovery this month. Let us know about an event. Or share  your own story of recovery!

Gene Variant, A Key to Prevention?

Researches at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAA) recently found a genetic variation in receptor sites known as the mu-opioid in the brain’s reward system that appear to influence the release of dopamine and may be key to addiction prevention. This also affects the degree of pleasure that individuals get from drinking. As reported by Join Together, the study was published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.

It’s known that alcohol consumption causes the brain to release the neurotransmitter dopamine (responsible for pleasure, motivation, etc.), but science is beginning to understand how genes may influence the degree to which the brain responds to drinking. Ultimately, this may determine more effective methods for substance abuse prevention and rehabilitation.

Specifically, individuals who possess the 118G variant of the mu-opioid receptor may experience more pleasurable effects from alcohol. This puts them at greater risk for developing alcohol abuse and dependence. This may also explain why individuals with this genetic variant benefited the most from treatment that directly targeted the dopamine receptors.

Further understanding of this gene variant, its relationship to dopamine, and the ability to detect the gene variant in individuals could become a powerful means of prevention and early intervention.

Science Solidifying the Neurobiology of Addiction

A team at The Scripps Research Institute has found significant evidence regarding the neurobiology of addiction that a specific neurotransmitter system, the endocannabinoid system that includes the most common CB1 receptors, is active in the brain region that plays an important role in appetite, memory, mood/ emotion, and addiction. The study, which was recently published in Neuropsychopharmacology, also found that endocannabinoid system can inhibit the effects of alcohol, thus offering promise for future prevention and rehabilitation strategies.

According to a professor of the neurobiology of addiction at Scripps Research, this is the first study to show a “direct cellular interaction between endocannabinoids and alcohol in the brain.” (Science Daily)

The study abates a paper published in 2001 in the Journal of Neuroscience, in which a European group asserted that endocannabinoid receptors (CB1 receptors) did not exist in the brain region known as the central amygdala (which is part of the limbic / reward system of the brain). This paper’s conclusions were widely accepted by the the field. However, the scientists at The Scripps Research began to suspect that the presence of CB1 receptors in the central amygdala had somehow been missed. Especially since, as many of the scientists at Scripps, said that they began studying the endocannabinoid system in the central amygdala because of addiction. And they found that CB1 receptors are very abundant throughout the brain.

One of the scientists reiterated that there has been numerous behavioral studies on substance abuse, but a very limited amount on the physiology of addiction. And aside from the 2001 study, even less on the physiology in the central amygdala (a region of the brain that is key in understanding the drug and alcohol abuse).

Using electrophysiological techniques in brain slices to test the response of brain cells from the central amygdala in rats, the scientists found compelling evidence that CB1 receptors were active there. They also determined that alcohol and CB1 agonists have opposing effects on GABA (which is a main inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain that fine-tunes signaling throughout the nervous system. GABA plays a key role in alcohol dependence and other addictions.) The scientists concluded that because there is such a wide presence of CB1 receptors, there is a greater possibility of inhibiting the effects of alcohol.

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