Increasingly, experts lean into the idea that some people’s brains just have “different wiring” which is responsible for various brain disorders, including addiction. Of course, the “pleasure chemical,” dopamine, has a lot to do with addiction too, the decreasing production of it being the spoilsport mechanism that makes addicts derive less pleasure from their substance of choice, necessitating larger and larger doses in order to reach the effectiveness threshold.
One of the problems in the field is that around 60% of alcoholics who quit will relapse in the first year, and 90% of them eventually. Another is that “various genes active in the brain” apparently can drive vulnerable people into addiction; and yet another is that in some quarters, ethical objections to gene therapy have arisen.
Give it a try
A substance known as glial-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF for short) stimulates dopamine production, so Ohio State University professor Krystof Bankiewicz thought that perhaps interfering with the basic building blocks might be justified.
“[D]elivering GDNF to brain areas associated with addiction and reward through gene therapy could help reset the dysfunctional pathways,” Bankiewicz theorized. It might succeed in bringing alcoholics back to where life is manageable and the substance is not in charge. So he tried it out on a few macaque monkeys and stated,
It was responsible for a complete cessation of alcohol interest in these animals. They were also no longer interested in sugary drinks or even eating excessively, while the monkeys who didn’t receive the therapy kept drinking more and more.
Bankiewicz suggests it could also be a solution to other severe dependencies, such as addiction to opioids, nicotine, and cocaine. This is not the only radical idea currently in play. British and German scientists…
[…] are currently investigating whether applying low-level electrical stimulation to a brain region involved in response inhibition can help treat binge-eating disorder — a form of food addiction where sufferers feel continually compelled to eat to excess.
Rutgers University psychiatry professor Danielle Dick co-authored a study that analyzed data from around 1.5 million people and discovered that “those with gene variants linked to impulsivity tended to be more likely to participate in smoking and substance-taking in adolescence and adulthood.” In some cases, genetic mutations “can increase our propensity to overeat or make us more likely to become addicted to sugar and ultra-processed foods.” For instance,
Around 0.3 per cent of the UK population carry mutations in MC4R that cause their brains to subconsciously conclude that they’re carrying less fat than they really are, driving them to overeat.
Semaglutide-based pharmaceuticals like Ozempic and Wegovy “attempt to counteract the effects of such mutations by injecting a synthetic version of the hormone GLP-1, which acts on the brain to create a feeling of fullness.”
Your responses and feedback are welcome!
<Source: “The end of addiction?,” AFR.com, 09/08/23
Image by Charcoal Soul/CC BY-ND 2.0 DEED