31 May 2009

ABC: Addiction Behaviour Complex -- Solved?

The term "addiction" is used in many contexts to describe an obsession, compulsion, or excessive psychological dependence, such as: drug addiction (e.g. alcoholism), video game addiction, crime, money, work addiction, compulsive overeating, problem gambling, computer addiction,nicotine addiction, pornography addiction, plastic surgery addiction, etc. _Wikipedia
The addiction behaviour complex (ABC) manifested by addicts does not depend upon the object of addiction. In fact, scientists at the University of Toronto and Brigham Young University have discovered that addiction behaviour needs no "object of addiction" to take place! Addictions of all types turn humans into zombies and destroy the economies of homes and communities. What if mind science and medicine could bypass the specific addiction, and eliminate the underlying ABC itself? First we have to understand the ABC.
The Toronto team noted that a single injection of BDNF made rats behave as though they were dependent on opiates (which they had never received). Though rats instinctively prefer certain smells, lighting and texture, these rats left their comfort zone in search of a fix.

"This work may reveal a mechanism that underlies drug addiction," said lead author Hector Vargas-Perez, a neurobiologist at the University of Toronto.

The BYU team confirmed that the protein is a critical regulator of drug dependency. After the BDNF injection, specific chemicals that normally inhibit neurons in this part of the brain instead excited them, a "switch" known to occur when people become dependent on drugs.

Steffensen, who teaches in BYU's psychology department, says this work suggests that BDNF is crucial for inducing a drug dependent state, one important aspect of drug addiction. _SD
Now that neuroscientists possess the tools to better understand the mechanisms of addiction, the possibility of mitigating or even eliminating ABC -- all destructive addiction behaviours -- seems very real. In fact, the obsessions and compulsions of common addictions have clear parallels in a large number of dysfunctional behaviours. What we are talking about is getting at the core of counter-productive obsessions and compulsions -- removing the bad drivers of addictive behaviours of all types.

The cost of addiction is high, and is paid by all members of society at every age:
People of all ages suffer the harmful consequences of drug abuse and addiction.

* Babies exposed to legal and illegal drugs in the womb may be born premature and underweight. This drug exposure can slow the child's intellectual development and affect behavior later in life.6
* Adolescents who abuse drugs often act out, do poorly academically, and drop out of school. They are at risk of unplanned pregnancies, violence, and infectious diseases.
* Adults who abuse drugs often have problems thinking clearly, remembering, and paying attention. They often develop poor social behaviors as a result of their drug abuse, and their work performance and personal relationships suffer.
* Parents' drug abuse often means chaotic, stress-filled homes and child abuse and neglect. Such conditions harm the well-being and development of children in the home and may set the stage for drug abuse in the next generation. _DrugAbuse.gov
The other side of the coin is that many people benefit from the myriad self-destructive compulsive behaviours that people exhibit. Drug lords, politicians, the prison industry, drug enforcement agencies, the mental health industry, government lotteries, casinos, the entertainment and news medias, and many other common fixtures of daily life and quasi-criminality too numerous to delineate.

Of course if you understand the heart of addiction, you can not only "cure" addictive behaviours, you can also reinforce them and condition them around particular environmental stimuli. In other words, not only can you turn zombies back into normal people -- you will also be able to turn normal people into zombies with great skill. It is the dilemma of knowledge, played out on yet another stage.

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