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Even if you're not biologically vulnerable to begin with, perhaps you try alcohol or drugs to cope with a stressful or painful environment, Volkow says. Whatever the reason, the brain's reward system can change as a chemical named dopamine conditions it to rituals and routines that are linked to getting something you've found pleasurable, whether it's a pack of cigarettes or a few drinks or even overeating. When someone's truly addicted, that warped system keeps them going back even after the brain gets so used to the high that it's no longer pleasurable.
Make no mistake: Patients still must choose to fight back and treat an addiction, stresses Miller, medical director of the Herrington Recovery Center at Rogers Memorial Hospital in Oconomowoc, Wis.
But understanding some of the brain reactions at the root of the problem will "hopefully reduce some of the shame about some of these issues, hopefully reduce stigma," he says.
And while most of the neuroscience centers on drug and alcohol addiction, the society notes that it's possible to become addicted to gambling, sex or food although there's no good data on how often that happens. It's time for better study to find out, Miller says.
Meanwhile, Volkow says intriguing research is under way to use those brain findings to develop better treatments -- not just to temporarily block an addict's high but to strengthen the underlying brain circuitry to fend off relapse.
Topping Miller's wish list: Learning why some people find recovery easier and faster than others, and "what does brain healing look like."
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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