University of Pennsylvania Drug and Alcohol Research focuses on biological explanations using MRIs to explain opiate, marijuana, nicotine, cocaine and alcohol addiction.
Early this year Philadelphia Inquirer writer William Bender did a story on research involving MRIs to study drug addiction. http://articles.philly.com/2013-01-18/news/36417589_1_addiction-anna-rose-childress-opiate-addicts. This useful and well written article features Twenty-five year old, Matthew Ellis who struggled with drug abuse since he was a teenager. He started out abusing painkillers and then a few years later began using dope (heroin). This article explains well how addiction takes over a person’s world and the drug becomes more important to the addict than career, family, and self-care. Matthew Ellis made numerous attempts to overcome his addiction and get clean but it was extremely difficult and he would find himself using again. He tried Suboxone and approximately seven rounds of inpatient as well as outpatient treatment and sometimes he would go for months without using drugs. But eventually he would relapse. Then Matthew enrolled in a research study at the University of Pennsylvania and through their behavioral and cognitive behavioral treatments using an MRI assessment, Mathew has been off of Heroin for months. Neuroscientists at the university’s Center for Studies of Addiction are using MRI research to understand better how opiates marijuana, nicotine, cocaine and alcohol affect the reward system in the brain. Researchers watch certain regions of the brain to see how they react to drug-related photos and cues. Their hypothesis is that they can predict which types of addiction sufferers will succeed with certain treatments and which ones will relapse. This hypothesis contradicts the misconception that overcoming addiction is a matter of willpower. University of Pennsylvania researchers intend to use these studies and related research findings to develop more effective treatments and eventually personalize medicine that is unique to each addicted person’s mental strengths and vulnerabilities. An individuals strengths and vulnerabilities are the result of genetics, life experiences and drug use most people believe. Anna Rose Childress, a psychologist who directs the center’s cocaine-related MRI research says that she believes this research provides a lot of hope for the future of addiction. Hope is what those of us who have been afflicted by addiction or affected by our loved one’s addiction need. With emerging technologies to study addiction and treatment for addiction we can be more confident that help is available for those who want it.