Saturday, August 24, 2013

Implications of the Physiological Mechanisms of Addiction

The Effects of Oxycontin on the Body

Opiates, such as oxycontin mimic the effect of naturally occurring opioids, such as the endorphin high to which runners and other athletes refer. Oxycontin is an mu opioid agonist whose therapeutic value is in its analgesic effects. Receptor agonists affect opioid receptors. When these receptors are stimulated, or overstimulated, the effect can be euphoria among other less pleasant effects, such as respiratory depression, which is one of the ways it affects the central nervous system (Pierce & Kumaresan, 2006). The longer the drug is taken, the body builds up a tolerance to it, and an individual needs to consume an increased amount to experience the same feeling.

The Physiological Mechanisms of Addiction

Addiction involves areas of the brain that provoke feelings of motivation and reward. Drugs, such as opiates, decrease thresholds for brain stimulation, and the user is compelled to want and use more as their addiction increases (Koob & Volkow, 2010). Opiates relieve pain, anxiety, and inhibition, and cause euphoria. Koob and Volkow (2010) found a common feature of addictive drugs; they increase mesocorticolimbic dopamine activity. The mesocorticolimbic dopamine system is involved in reward, motivation, movement, and memory (Yamagucki, Wang, Li, Ng, & Morales, 2011). In addition, the central nucleus of the amygdala is influential in reinforcing the reward of drug abuse (Koob & Volkow, 2010). Koob and Volkow concluded that several regions of the brain are affected and involved in drug addiction, and an individual's unique characteristics create an incredibly complex biological environment for addiction.

Understanding Mechanisms of Addiction

If society had a better understanding of the mechanisms of addiction, perhaps attitudes toward addiction and stigma attached to addicts would change. Rather than perceiving addicts as failures or degenerates, the understanding would be similar to acknowledging depression cannot be relieved by simply telling the person to get over it. According to the American Psychological Association (2004) 67% of the general public believe recovering addicts are stigmatized; 74% believe these attitudes should change. However, 43% of those polled claim they would probably not vote for an individual in recovery running for a gubernatorial role. Perhaps people want to change their attitudes, but need more information to make that change.

From a different perspective, this information could support the creation of effective interventions and pharmacology that aids in keeping addicts off drugs by making changes in their biology. Just as SSRIs change the way neurotransmitters work in the body, another drug might affect the way the dopamine system responds to addictive substances. Although there are certainly a number of underlying psychological issues in drug addiction, addressing its biological basis might give addicts a better chance of durable recovery.


American Psychological Association (2004). FAVOR Survey on American Attitudes Towards Addiction. National News. p. 4. doi:10.1037/e403292005-009.

Koob, G. F., & Volkow, N. D. (2010). Neurocircuitry of addiction. Neuropsychopharmacology, 35(1), 217–238.

Pierce, R., & Kumaresan, V. (2006). The mesolimbic dopamine system: The final common pathway for the reinforcing effect of drugs of abuse? Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 30(2), 215-238. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2005.04.016

Yamaguchi, T., Wang, H., Li, X., Ng, T. H. & Morales, M. (2011). Mesocorticolimbic glutamatergic pathway. The Journal of Neuroscience 31(23). 8476-8490. doi: 10.1523/​ JNEUROSCI.1598-11.2011

No comments:

Post a Comment