We increasingly understand addiction as a brain disorder, according to the New York Times article "An Anti-Addiction Pill?," which reported on a recent invitation-only addiction conference hosted by the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory at MIT.
The conference was a celebration of the new ways scientists and addiction researchers are conceptualizing, and seeking to treat, addiction. While many in the treatment field have long called addiction a 'disease,' they've used the word in vague and metaphorical ways, meaning everything from a disease of the mind to a disease of the spirit. Many assumed that an addict suffers from a brain-chemistry problem, but scientists had not been able to peer into our heads to begin to prove it.
Now they can, using advances in brain-imaging technology. And they tend to agree on what they see, although not necessarily on how to fix it: addiction — whether to alcohol, to drugs or even to behaviors like gambling — appears to be a complicated disorder affecting brain processes responsible for motivation, decision making, pleasure seeking, inhibitory control and the way we learn and consolidate information and experiences.
If addiction can be correlated with brain activity, the Times author also reports on animal experiments by researchers that suggest it can also be associated with boredom, loss of purpose or early stresses that leave people vulnerable to addiction later in life. As described by the article, the people in attendance at the conference heard from William C. Moyers, the son of the journalist Bill Moyers, who provided his perspective:
'I have an illness [addiction] with origins in the brain. . .but I also suffered with the other component of this illness,' he told the gathered researchers and scientists, some of whom dutifully took notes. 'I was born with what I like to call a hole in my soul.. . .A pain that came from the reality that I just wasn't good enough. That I wasn't deserving enough. That you weren't paying attention to me all the time. That maybe you didn't like me enough....'
There was no word on a forthcoming soul pill.
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