Special Section on Addiction Appears in 'Nature'

By Zachary Siegel 06/26/15

A quick review of the prestigious science journal's new section on addiction.

addiction concept.jpg

Nature, an international science journal, published a special section consisting of 10 original articles on addiction. The foremost scientists, doctors, and science journalists around the world show us where the field of addiction is at and where it’s going.

Because alcohol has the longest history of use in the United States, it is by far the most studied addiction, but Nature has an article written on behavioral addictions like gambling and the Internet.

The piece authored by Marc Potenza, a researcher at Yale, entitled “Behavioural Addictions Matter” chimes in on the debate about which behaviors constitute an addiction. He discusses the recent reclassification of gambling addiction that now falls under "Substance-related and addictive disorders" as opposed to "Impulse-control disorders not elsewhere classified."

“This represents a significant shift from a view that has prevailed since the 1980s that addictions are disorders involving compulsive drug use, and multiple non-substance-related behaviors may now be considered addictions,” he writes.

Potenza calls to action that more research ought to be done to better understand the many factors that play a role in behavioral addictions.

In an essay written by Maia Szalavitz, she takes on the myth of the addictive personality. “Scientists have searched for decades for an 'addictive personality' that leaves someone vulnerable to drug problems, but without success,” she writes.

Szalavitz notes the close connection between addiction and childhood trauma as well several other genetic and epigenetic factors that may leave one vulnerable to developing an addiction. Because the evidence shows more and more how varied addiction is, it’s unlikely that any one personality type is prone to developing an addiction, she argues.

Szalavitz ends her piece by stating that treatment and prevention programs need to be updated and modernized to keep up with the research.

A more controversial piece in the special issue is titled, “Contingency Management: Why it Pays to Quit,” authored by Sujata Gupta. Contingency management means offering a participant tangible rewards to reinforce positive behaviors, in this iteration, by not using drugs, one may receive money.

“The rationale is that financial incentives activate the same reward systems in the brain as addictive behaviors,” she writes.

To illustrate why this form of treatment is rare and rarely offered, Gupta quotes Nancy Petry, an addiction specialist at the University of Connecticut, “You're providing tangible rewards to people who were engaging in illegal or unhealthy behaviors.”

Gupta elaborates extensively on the barriers that keeps contingency management in the lab and not in the real world. “To many taxpayers, giving money to people addicted to a drug seems baffling—or morally wrong. But the real hitch is: who should pick up the tab?”

There are several other articles worth checking out in the issue. One in particular is titled, “Beyond the Neural Circuits,” authored by Kenneth E. Leonard. He argues, “The social environment has a significant effect on substance use” and cites the research to back it up. 

His essay ends on a positive note, one that you’ll be sure to agree with whether your looking at a digitized synapse or a miracle cure in the form of an anti-addiction vaccine, “A network of supportive friends and family are key elements to recovery.”

You can read the full special section here.

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix

Zachary Siegel is a freelance journalist specializing in science, health and drug policy. His reporting has also appeared in Slate, The Daily Beast, Salon, Huffington Post, among others. He writes often about addiction, sometimes drawing from his own experience. You can find out more about Zachary on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.