Understanding Addiction’s 3 Stages Could Help Us Treat The Disease
Experts who research addiction have long argued that it is a disease of the brain. Now, in a new paper, they present a model of addiction, broken down into three key stages, to illustrate how the condition changes human neurobiology.
Essentially, each of these three phases affects the brain in a unique way, according to the review of studies, published today (Jan. 27) in The New England Journal of Medicine. These brain changes, in turn, affect a person’s behavior, altering both the way they react to stress and their ability to control certain actions, the authors propose.
Understanding what’s going on in the brain of someone with an addiction is essential for medical professionals to better treat people with this disease, said Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the lead author of the new review. Currently, 20 million to 22 million people in the United States are addicted to alcohol or other drugs, according to the review.
But simply telling people that addiction is a disease doesn’t always convey the severity of the condition or convince them that it goes beyond a voluntary behavior, Volkow said.
That’s because when people are told addiction is a disease of the brain, they don’t really understand what it means, Volkow told Live Science. For comparison, saying that “diabetes is a disease of the pancreas” also doesn’t give a person a clear understanding of how the disease works or affects a person’s body, she said. But by explaining that the pancreas produces insulin that’s needed for cells to metabolize glucose, and that, in people with diabetes, the pancreas is damaged and cannot produce that necessary insulin, people start to understand, she said.
With the new review, Volkow wanted to provide such an explanation for how addiction works in the brain.
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