News / Health

Inherited Vulnerability to Drug Addiction Discovered

Brain abnormalities found in addicts and their non-addicted siblings

Brain abnormalities found in addicts and their non-addicted siblings suggest these congenital differences might be to blame for the increased vulnerability to drug abuse.
Brain abnormalities found in addicts and their non-addicted siblings suggest these congenital differences might be to blame for the increased vulnerability to drug abuse.

Multimedia

Audio
Jessica Berman

Scientists have discovered structural abnormalities in the brains of drug addicts and their non-addicted siblings, a finding that suggests there may be an inherited vulnerability to addiction, and that behavioral therapies could help addicts recover.  

Substance abuse is known to run in families, according to experts, who say that having an addicted family member increases a person’s risk of addiction by eight to ten percent above the general population.  



Researchers have yet to identify an addiction gene. But Karen Esche at the University of Cambridge in Britain says the brain abnormalities found in addicts and their non-addicted siblings suggest these congenital differences might be to blame for the increased vulnerability to drug abuse.  

“This may suggest that some of the impairments that we see in the drug users are not caused by the drugs or [do not] predispose them to addiction,” Esche says.

Esche's team used magnetic resonance imaging to take pictures of the brains of cocaine addicts and their non-addicted siblings. The images showed the same patterns of abnormalities in the pre-frontal and striatal regions of the brain, patterns not evident in the brains of unrelated volunteers.

Researchers also tested the study participants to see how quickly they could switch from one task to another. The addicted sibling pairs fared much worse than the volunteers, suggesting high levels of impulsivity and a lack of self-control.

“Which again puts them at risk of taking drugs, because what we see in addiction is that that self-control gets lost," Esche says. "Loss of control - loss of control over drug use - is a hallmark of addiction.”

Nora Volkow, director of the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse, says the study suggests the brain abnormalities observed in the addicted sibling are not due to chronic and repeated drug abuse. She believes people with a biological vulnerability to drug abuse can resist the temptation, which is good news for drug addicts.

“Even if you have a vulnerability in your brain that makes those areas not function properly, you can overcome it by interventions that can help you strengthen it,” she says.

According to Volkow, aerobic exercise has been shown to improve impulse control. So, too, have computer training programs designed to strengthen the pre-frontal areas of the brain that have been implicated in addiction.

You May Like

Ebola Death Toll Nears 5,000 as Virus Advances

West Africa bears heaviest burden; Mali toddler’s death raises new fears More

Jordan’s Battle With Islamic State Militants Carries Domestic Risks

Despite Western concerns that IS militants are preparing a Jordanian offensive, analysts call the kingdom's solid intel a strong deterrent More

Asian-Americans Assume Office in Record Numbers

Steadily deepening engagement in local politics pays off for politicians like Chinese-American Judy Chu More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Comanche Chief Quanah Parker’s Century-Old House Falling Apart

One of the most fascinating people in U.S. history was Quanah Parker, the last chief of the American Indian tribe, the Comanche. He was the son of a Comanche warrior and a white woman who had been captured by the Indians. Parker was a fierce warrior until 1875 when he led his people to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and took on a new, peaceful life. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Cache, Oklahoma, Quanah’s image remains strong among his people, but part of his heritage is in danger of disappearing.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid