How Is Scientific Research Helping Our Understanding of Addiction?

How Is Scientific Research Helping Our Understanding of Addiction?

It is a widely accepted fact that drug addiction is a complex disease.

It’s a widely accepted fact today that addiction is a complex disease that cannot be overcome with just good intentions. Recovery from addiction to alcohol or other drugs is a rough road to travel. It’s one that usually needs an integrated, evidence-based approach . This is provided by an experienced, skilled team of experts in this field.

Now known as a chronic brain disease, addiction causes people to seek and abuse drugs compulsively. There’s no regard for harmful effects to the addict and others. For most people, the initial decision to take drugs is a willing one. However, physical changes occur in the brain over time with continued use. Users surrender control of their lives to drugs as these changes happen. Scientific research is answering many questions in recent years. Including what happens in the brain, who is most at risk, and what treatment methods are showing the best results.

What’s the Real Story on Addiction?

With repeated drug use over time, tolerance develops. Tolerance occurs when the person no longer responds to a drug like they did at first. In other words, it takes a higher dose of that drug to achieve the same level of response..

The growth of tolerance is not addiction, although many addictive drugs produce tolerance. Tolerance to drugs can be produced in several different ways.  In the case of morphine or heroin, for example, tolerance develops at the level of the cell. When morphine binds to opiate receptors, it blocks other signals such as pain. After repeated blocking of the receptor, morphine no longer cuts off the signals. The effect of a given dose of morphine or heroin is diminished, and more is needed to have an effect. In the end, this can easily lead to overdose and oftentimes death.1

Scientific research now strongly supports the following thoughts on addiction:

  • It expresses itself through compulsive behaviors – the seeking and using of drugs.
  • As a chronic brain disease, addicts must manage it for the rest of their lives.
  • It causes permanent changes to your brain; the longer the drug use, the worse the damage.
  • Biological, environmental, and genetic factors contribute to addiction’s development.

Current data showing that substance abuse claims nearly one in ten Americans over the age of 12. As a result, efforts are being made by the U.S. drug agencies to spread this new view about drug addiction into mainstream America. These agencies hope to dispel much of the incorrect thinking and the harmful stigmas related to this disorder.

What Treatment Approach Is Now Considered the Best?

Research has proven that, as with other chronic diseases like diabetes and hypertension, treating substance abuse disorders takes more than a “one size fits all” approach. There’s no one treatment approach that works best for every person with a substance use disorder. To date, medical experts hold the following evidence-based treatment models in high regard:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Treatment (CBT) – aims to correct faulty thinking that frequently drives substance abuse.
  • 12-Step support groups – focus on abstinence, care of emotions, and avoiding relapse through the support of friends.
  • Dialectic Behavioral Therapy (DBT) – blends CBT methods with a focus on concepts of emotion, reality, and meditation.

Someone who believes recovery only needs one method will wrongly view relapse as a sign of permanent defeat. However, according to multiple studies, the converse is actually true. People are clean longer if they supplement their treatment with other methods. Individuals who successfully go through detox and rehab are more likely to avoid relapse if they join a 12-Step fellowship.2

Moving Forward with Hope for a Brighter Future

Despite the array of treatment options available today, addiction scientists continue their search for deeper answers about addiction and recovery. More than any other time in history, individuals with substance use disorders who seek help are poised to regain their health and realize the return of their authentic self. The sooner you reach out for help to overcome the power of addiction, the sooner you can restart your life.

If you or someone you love struggles with addiction, call us on our toll-free, 24/7 line for compassionate, professional advice on the best treatment options available for your specific needs. Transportation services are even available, if needed. This is a critical move, so place your trust in one who is highly acclaimed by more than ten federally funded comparative studies of treatment programs nationwide.


1 “The Neurobiology of Drug Addiction”, National Institute on Drug Abuse, (January 2007).

2 “Mindfulness-Based Therapies for Substance Use Disorder: Part 1” , National Center for Biotechnology Information, (February 9, 2010).