Addiction is a chronic disease that can destroy the lives of individuals and their families. Researchers are teasing apart the complex neural, genetic and behavioural factors that drive people to lose the ability to resist damaging substances, and are looking for ways to treat, reverse or even prevent addictions. Read more in this special Outlook supplement I edited for Nature.
There are signs that strategies to address prescription drug abuse are starting to work but will an increase in illegal drug use be the payoff?
Prescription medicines can be a powerful life saving tool, but they carry with them a danger of abuse. The euphoric effects of prescription painkillers, as well as stimulants and drugs designed to treat anxiety and trouble sleeping, can encourage some people to use them recreationally, with potentially fatal results. Others who start using these drugs therapeutically can go on to become addicted.
The problem is a huge one. In the United States, drug overdoses are the leading cause of accidental deaths, eclipsing even car accidents. And the UK joins the United States in the grim statistic that overdose deaths from prescription opioids outnumber those from heroin and cocaine combined. A variety of approaches are being used to tackle the problem, including educating prescribers, monitoring prescriptions, introducing drug formulations that are tough to abuse and, ultimately, treating addicted individuals. Read more in The Pharmaceutical Journal.
Human tendency to seek patterns leads to misperception of randomness.
Habitual gamblers are more likely to believe they see patterns in random sequences of events, and to act on that belief, than the general population, according to new research.
Wolfgang Gaissmaier, a psychologist at the University of Konstanz in Germany, and his colleagues studied how habitual gamblers, recruited from among the regular patrons of the Akwesasne Mohawk Casino in upstate New York, used a cognitive strategy known as “probability matching” in a betting scenario. The regular gamblers, who ranged from slot machine players to those who frequent the blackjack table, were compared to members of the general public. Read more at Inside Science.
Marijuana is going mainstream in the US. On 1 January, Colorado became the first state in the country to allow recreational use of the drug. Washington is set to do the same within the next few months, and many others are considering similar measures.
Critics of these moves say that legalizing marijuana will increase consumption, leading to an uptick in substance use problems. And with more than 4 million Americans already dependent on or abusing marijuana—making cannabis the number 3 recreational drug after alcohol and tobacco—scientists and public health officials are increasingly fretting over the dearth of available pharmacologic treatments for marijuana addiction. “Every day we are growing more concerned about the number of people seeking treatment,” says Ivan Montoya, a psychiatrist and epidemiologist who serves as deputy director in the division of pharmacotherapies at the US National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) in Bethesda, Maryland. Read more in Nature Medicine.