Drug addiction is a chronically relapsing disorder that has been characterized by the compulsive use of addictive substances despite adverse consequences to the individual and society. Addiction to drugs and alcohol is increasingly becoming a worldwide trend in lifestyle that is prevalent in rich and poor countries alike.
Addiction to alcohol, drugs and cigarette smoking is now regarded as a major public health problem. Other forms of addiction including computer games, gambling, sex and food also have severe consequences on the health of the individual and to society.
The commonly abused drugs have profound action in the nervous system, particularly in the brain. Some of these substances such as opium, marijuana, cocaine, nicotine, caffeine, mescaline, and psilocybin are obtained from natural sources while others are synthetic or designer drugs.
Furthermore some of these substances like alcohol and nicotine are legal while some others that are legally available by prescription have addictive potential in vulnerable individuals. A number of addictive substances are illegal in most countries and this fuel the illegal drug trafficking and business that are often associated with criminal activities.
The initiation of the use of these substances induces euphoria, reward and a state of well-being that can lead to physical and psychological dependences. Withdrawal syndrome occurs when the individual attempts to stop the use of addictive substances and this leads to the cycle of dependency.
The mechanism(s) associated with the cycle of addiction include neuronal adaptation with tolerance or sensitization involved in the action of addictive substances. A number of factors have also been associated with addiction, including the availability, cost, method of administration, environmental factors such as behaviors acceptable in a community, peer influences and genetic and epigenetic factors.
Over the years a number of therapeutic approaches for drug and alcohol addiction have been utilized. However, relapse the resumption of drug taking following a period of drug abstinence, is considered the main hurdle in treating drug addiction.
Unfortunately pharmacological treatment of drug and alcohol dependency has largely been disappointing and new therapeutic targets and hypotheses are needed. Drug addiction is also influenced by the interaction of genes, epigenetics and the environment.
Twin studies consistently show that there is a heritable component to drug abuse and addiction. Now using modern genomic techniques, we are able to examine genetic variants, or single nucleotide polymorphisms that contribute to addiction vulnerability. So a lot more research needs to be done to better understand the neurobiological basis of drug addiction and hence a continuous challenge for IDARS scientists.
IDARS is therefore engaged in a vibrant and exciting international mechanism, not only for scientific interactions among scientists in the domain of addiction research between countries but also as a resource for informing public policy across nations.
This is an exciting period in the study of the neurobiology of addiction where brain circuitry and molecular mechanisms are providing hope for understanding not only the vulnerability to addiction but also providing new targets for the treatment of various types of substance abuse/dependence as presented in this report.