Addiction as a disease

Very interesting article from PsychCentral about discoveries related to addictive behaviour:

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"Our data suggest there may be a cognitive difference in people with addictions," reports lead scientist Charlotte Boettiger, PhD. "Their brains may not fully process the long-term consequences of their choices. They may compute information less efficiently."

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While decisions were being made, the imaging detected activity in the posterior parietal cortex, the dorsal prefrontal cortex, the anterior temporal lobe and the orbital frontal cortex. People who sustain damage to the orbital frontal cortex generally suffer impaired judgment, manage money poorly and act impulsively, the scientists noted.

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Read the rest of the article if you are interested in the details, it's quite short, but here is an interesting prediction from one of the researchers, Charlotte Boettiger:

"It wasn't that long ago that we believed schizophrenia was caused by bad mothers and depression wasn't a disease. Hopefully, in 10 years, we'll look back and it will seem silly that we didn't think addiction was a disease, too."

When I was studying psychology one of my lecturers was involved in a study looking at genetic factors in alcoholism. What always puzzled me about that was how you link the gene to the behaviour.

My own experiences with addictive behaviour suggest that it's a "mental image" thing involving, it seems, your moment to moment map of who you are and what you want. I could never quite see how to connect that to genetic factors. But a genetic factor that leads to a susceptibility to impairment of the orbital frontal cortex seems quite plausible to me.

An alternative that occurs to me is that the cortex is under-developed. It's development occurred in a period in which there were orders of magnitude less stimuli for humans and survival & procreation were pretty much the only goals available. It didn't have to worry about self-actualization and whether you were a good human being or not. Maybe it's just not up to the job (yet).

I look forward to reading a lot more about this line of research.

13/01/2008 10:22 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments: