January 01, 2018

What Happens in the Brain When a Person Becomes Addicted?

By Jodi Gilman

The science is clear; addiction changes the brain. Animal and human studies show that neural structure, function, connectivity, neurotransmitter levels, and even epigenetics can be affected by drugs of abuse. In the past 20 years, there has been a fundamental shift in our understanding of the science of addiction and in the way addiction is conceptualized in the medical and political communities. Though, traditionally, substance use treatment has been separate from routine health care, doctors are beginning to regularly ask patients about drug and alcohol use. Medications are being prescribed by physicians that can help people with cravings and withdrawal symptoms, though there are still many barriers to this type of treatment. And politicians, largely because of the attention that the opiate epidemic has received in the popular press, are beginning to talk about public health solutions, rather than criminal justice alone, to counter addiction.

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