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Addiction Caused By Overcorrecting Brain, Study Suggests

Update Date: Jul 01, 2014 11:38 PM EDT

Scientists believe that addiction begins when the brain overcorrects itself.

After publishing three new scientific papers on brain mechanisms involved with addictive substances, lead researcher Professor Scott Steffensen and his collaborators at Brigham Young University believe that addiction should be treated like disease.

"Addiction is a brain disease that could be treated like any other disease," Steffensen said in a news release. "I wouldn't be as motivated to do this research, or as passionate about the work, if I didn't think a cure was possible."

Steffensen compares the addiction process to overcorrecting a vehicle. Researchers explain that the brain suffers oxidative stress when drugs and alcohol release unnaturally high levels of dopamine into its pleasure system.

Previous studies revealed that the brain makes up by producing a protein called BDNF (brain derived neurotrophic factor), which decreases the brain's normal dopamine production after someone comes down from a high. Researchers explain that not having enough dopamine is what triggers the stress and pain of withdrawal.

"The body attempts to compensate for unnatural levels of dopamine, but a pathological process occurs," Steffensen said. "We think it all centers around a subset of neurons that ordinarily put the brakes on dopamine release."

"Addiction is a huge concern in our society and is very misunderstood," co-author Nathan Schilaty of Brigham Young University said in a statement. "Our research is helping us to formulate ideas on how we can better help these individuals through non-invasive and non-pharmacological means."

"I am optimistic that in the near future medical science will be able to reverse the brain changes in dopamine transmission that occur with drug dependence and return an 'addict' to a relatively normal state," Steffensen concluded. "Then the addict will be in a better position to make rational decisions regarding their behavior and will be empowered to remain drug free."

The findings are published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

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