Research continues to investigate ways to break the addictive cycle. Genetics is among the most cutting-edge investigation being carried out today into the nature of addiction. So far, this research has yielded lots of information on addiction on the genetic level and in brain processes. Researchers have managed to isolate a number of genes, hormones and chemicals in the brain that are directly related to certain types of addictions. By identifying these aspects of addiction, researchers have formed the basis that could lead to the creation of drugs that treat specific addiction.
However, geneticists aren't betting that they will find a single gene that leads to addiction in people. Research so far has shown that genetic predisposition is most likely caused by a combination of genes working together. Interestingly, research has shown that genes also play a role in making people less susceptible to addiction. Rather than simply not having genes that would make them more likely to become addicted to a substance, some people actually have genes that can keep them from ever becoming addicted.
There are already some medications in use that can treat addiction or alleviate symptoms. For many years, methadone has been used to treat heroin addiction. This drug affects the opiate receptors, and can alleviate both the physical and psychological symptoms of withdrawal. Another drug that has shown promise for treating heroin addiction, LAAM (levo-alpha-acetyl methadol), acts as an opioid antagonist, keeping opiate receptors in the brain from being stimulated, thus degrading the effect heroin has on the user.
Another prescription medication, Nalmefene, has been shown to curb gambling addiction. It's also being tested to see if it can cure alcoholism, but has shown weaker results than it has in treating gambling addiction.
The most widespread medications used to treat addiction are antidepressants. These drugs address the feelings of despair that can result from psychological dependency. They can also help treat any preexisting condition, like depression, that may have led to the addiction in the first place.
This is a good example of the holistic approach that science is currently undertaking to treat addiction. This holistic approach identifies the need to address not only the brain disease of addiction, but also the internal factors (such as genetics) and the external risk factors that lead to and enable addiction. Addiction is a multifaceted chronic disease, and it takes multifaceted treatment to restore the life of the addict to normalcy.
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