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Moore, Joan (2009) Drugs in Focus - policy briefing. Drugnet Ireland , Issue 31, Autumn 2009 , p. 28.

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No. 19: Neurobiological research on drugs: ethical and policy implications

Most neurobiological research to date has focused on the fact that addictive drugs increase the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter which helps individuals memorise signals of pleasure or ‘reward’. New findings suggest that serotonin and noradrenaline (which work as a couple controlling impulsivity and asserting vigilance) are also involved in the addiction process. This briefing describes how chronic drug use disrupts this coupling, making a person more prone to cravings and less capable of controlling consumption. 

The briefing concludes with a series of policy considerations:

  1. Neuroscience has the potential to improve our understanding of addiction, possibly leading to new forms of treatment. There is a need to continue supporting studies in this area, whilst reviewing how European research can be encouraged and best organised.
  2. The assumption that repeated consumption of drugs of abuse induces long-term modifications in cerebral neurotransmission presents a strong argument for research aimed at characterising these modifications and finding ways to reverse them.
  3. New methodologies such as neuroimaging and genetic research may help to better understand variations in vulnerability to addiction, even if social factors are also clearly important. However, the extent to which this can be used in practice remains questionable.
  4. The efficacy of novel immunological approaches and neurological techniques will require detailed scrutiny. Some approaches in this area may be used in ways that raise important ethical and social concerns which could offset, or even be greater than potential benefits.
  5. Neurobiological research provides support for a ‘medical model’ of addiction. However, many drug issues concern the non-dependent use of illicit substances and the question of which approaches are appropriate to encourage addicted individuals into treatment — particularly those who may not want to be treated — is a critical one.
  6. A major challenge for policy will be to find ways to educate the public about the neurobiological basis of addiction, whilst acknowledging that individual and social choices also impact on drug use and addiction. 

These issues are addressed in a new EMCDDA monograph: Carter A, Capps B and Hall W (eds) (2009) Addiction neurobiology: ethical and social implications. Monograph No. 9. Luxemburg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities.

Item Type:Article
Issue Title:Issue 31, Autumn 2009
Date:October 2009
Page Range:p. 28
Publisher:Health Research Board
Volume:Issue 31, Autumn 2009
EndNote:View
Accession Number:HRB (Available)
Subjects:MP-MR Policy, planning, economics, work and social services > Policy > Policy on substance use
A Substance use, abuse, and dependence > Theory of substance use > Biological substance use disorder theory
E Concepts in biomedical areas > General life processes (physiology)

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