Home > Neuroscience and addiction recovery – NEAR conference.

Dunne, Mary (2012) Neuroscience and addiction recovery – NEAR conference. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 40, Winter 2011, pp. 30-31.

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The first international NEAR conference took place in Wicklow over three days from 10 November 2011.  There were three objectives:

  • to introduce delegates to Irish and international experts in the field of addiction;
  • to explore the latest neurological developments on potential causes and treatments;
  • to educate delegates about the latest evidence based recovery practices and their application.
The multi-disciplinary audience was composed primarily of counsellors, psychotherapists and other practitioners. Presentations explored issues arising from a range of addictions such as gambling, food, sex, and videogames, as well as alcohol and drugs. 
Some keynote speakers focused the neuroscience of addiction.  For example, Dr Shelly Uram showed how psychological trauma can impact the brain and subsequent behaviour. She described how the effects of trauma are stored in the brain’s survival areas implicated in flight, fight or freeze (shut-down or depressed) responses.  Therapies such as EMDR (Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) may be required to reach these ancient ‘unconscious’ brain areas before ‘talking therapies’ are of use. She also suggested that recovery goes beyond stopping using addictive substances or behaviours, and means recovering one’s underlying true nature, which can be helped through processes such as 12-step.  (To view videos on this topic by Dr Uram visit www.youtube.com/watch?v=6926eENqzwg.)
In another keynote address, Dr Carlton Erickson described addiction as a chronic, relapsing brain disease causing out-of-control behaviour. Drugs (including alcohol) are associated with specific neurotransmitters (chemicals which allow the transmission of signals from one brain neuron to the next).  It is assumed that for some people genetics, drug use and, possibly, environmental issues lead to dysregulation of the neurotransmitter system leading to compulsive use. People may get better through various types of treatment, such as psychosocial therapies, which ‘push back’ this system towards normal function.  (For more information visit the University of Texas Addiction Science Research and Education Center at www.utexas.edu/research/asrec/.)
Workshop sessions of 90 minutes gave presenters ample time to illustrate and discuss treatment topics such as mindfulness, group analytic psychotherapy, experiential therapies, oxygen therapy, and EMDR. Wider issues, such as the doctors’ role in addiction practice, dual diagnosis, including families in recovery, and the development of Irish drug and alcohol policy, were also included.
In one of these sessions, Brendan Murphy and Paul Goff spoke about the development of the alcohol and substance abuse prevention (ASAP) programme in the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA), which helps clubs prevent and respond to problems.  A new brief intervention training programme based on the SAOR model1 has been introduced for coaches. They are taught to Support, Ask and assess, Offer assistance and Refer players with substance-related issues for help. This intervention has the potential to reach large numbers of amateur sportsmen, who have reported high rates of alcohol consumption and alcohol-related harm.2
1. O’Shea J and Goff P (2011) SAOR model. Screening and brief interventions for problem alcohol use in the emergency department & acute care settings. Waterford: Health Service Executive. https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/15791  
2. O’Farrell A, Allwright S, Kenny S, Roddy G and Eldin N (2010) Alcohol use among amateur sportsmen in Ireland. BMC Research Notes. 3:313. https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/14227  

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