Neuroscientists at the University of Pennsylvania's Center for Studies of Addiction are using MRI research to understand how opiates hijacked the reward system in an addict's brain, says the Philadelphia Daily News. By watching how regions of the brain react to drug-related photos, or cues, researchers believe they can predict which addicts will succeed with certain treatments and which will relapse - a hypothesis that shatters the stubborn misconception that conquering addiction is solely a matter of "willpower."
"You can be a fortuneteller," said Anna Rose Childress, a psychologist who directs the center's cocaine-related MRI research. "But it's not just knowledge. It's not just pretty brain pictures. It's hope." The goal is to develop more effective treatments and, perhaps eventually, personalized medicine tailored to each addict's mental strengths and vulnerabilities, which are shaped by genetics, life experiences, and drug use. They are trying, in other words, to find a cure for addiction. "We're interested in seeing if, among the people that do better, their brains are different now," said Teresa Franklin, a neuroscientist who directs the nicotine and marijuana MRI studies at Penn. It's crucial research in the U.S., where nearly 22 million people need treatment for drug or alcohol dependency, and where policymakers have been slow to respond to the emerging science about addiction.