The human brain is hardwired to respond to reward or pleasure, and if it weren’t so, no one would eat or have sex.
But that same “pleasure circuit” is also the underpinning of addiction, explained researcher and psychiatrist Nora Volkow, head of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) at the National Institutes of Healt, and world leader in the neurobiology of diseases of reward and self-control.
Volkow’s research comparing brain scans of those who are addicted to those who are not, show addiction can physically change the frontal areas of the brain that are involved with motivation and pleasure. Volkow has often said she never met an addict who wanted to be an addict, and that addiction is like driving a car without brakes.
It has become a critical health issue, as deaths from fentanyl, an opioid drug that is 50-100 times more potent than morphine, have more than tripled in the United States from 3,105 in 2013 to 9,580 in 2015, “and those numbers are likely underestimates,” Volkow said. In Canada, prescription painkillers and illicit fentanyl are together fuelling a national epidemic of opioid-related overdoses, killing more than 2,800 people last year.
Volkow will be speaking in Montreal on Thursday at the Low-Beer Memorial Lecture on mental illness and addiction, hosted by AMI-Quebec, a group founded 40 years ago to help families manage the effects of mental illness through support, education, guidance, and advocacy.
Volkow spoke to the Montreal Gazette in advance of her lecture.
Q: Addiction is often misunderstood as a moral failure. What is the responsibility of the addict?
A: Well, in a way, it’s similar to someone suffering from epilepsy. If you have a disease,…