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What Happens To The Brain When It Becomes Addicted

April 9, 2018 1:33 p.m.

Scripps Neuroscientist To Discuss What Happens To Brain When It Becomes Addicted


Dr. Olivier George, associate professor in the department of neuroscience, Scripps Research Institute

Related Story: What Happens To The Brain When It Becomes Addicted


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>>> Many people continue to think that addiction or excessive use of drugs or alcohol is due to a lack of self-control. Meanwhile neurobiologists are working to identify what actually happens in the brain transitions into addiction and to develop therapies to interrupt that Path. In science is also investigating how the use of alcohol, nicotine, and marijuana can affect your cognitive system even after the high wears off. Doctor Olivier George the professor of neuroscience at Scripps research Institute is bringing this latest research information to nonscientist tonight at a suds and science event in Vista. Doctor George, Welcome. On the face of it, it seems odd that an addiction expert would be speaking at an event at a brewery. How do you rationalize that?
>> You have to factor in ingredients. If you want to have your research translated to the public, you want to talk to the people while actually using the drug, alcohol, tobacco. And this is a perfect place for that. I am not going there to tell them that they should go home and stop drinking. I think having a glass of wine or bourbon once in a while is a great thing. I indulge in this activity I think it's great. The key is the transition. The transition between recreational use and incompetent use. I will tell them about the benefits of some drug and alcohol and the dangerous effects of chronic use.

>>> For most people do they realize it at they have an addiction problem ?
>> No. It is very slow. The transition takes a lot of time. You think you're okay and so you're not alone -- anymore. It is like driving with a full gas tank without the sign that tells you to go empty pretty soon. You think you're okay and then you're driving around and then you're out.

>>> Are there signs that you are heading in that direction?
>> The best signs so far are risky behavior. Binging on alcohol or drugs to the point to where you will pass out. Where you might have an accident. You might get into an argument with your partner. When your boss tells you that you're always late. Your behavior is the best sine. We don't have a good biomarker to tell you if you're on the way to addiction or not.

>>> Hell does overindulgence and alcohol and nicotine and even marijuana, how does that start to have an effect on your brain even after you sober up.
>> The key with those drugs is they will have an acute impact on your brain. It's a matter of minutes, hours, you will feel euphoric, you'll get a little high, you'll feel relaxed, usually after 24 hours that is gone. For those times you take the drugs, you think nothing was happening. That what we know from biology is that you have long lasting effects in your brain that will take two, three, four weeks to become back to normal. Those are mostly silent at first. The problem is when you start repeating this even when you start -- all the changes will accumulate to the point to where a month later a couple of years later, and then you will have major changes in your brain that are difficult to come back to normal.

>>> Are those changes things like not being able to remember things as well? What are the kinds of things that can happen to people?
>> The condition is usually happening much later. We see that with alcohol where people started getting early signs of dementia. Usually the trouble happening first, people are becoming more irritable more anxious, more depressed. They fill low. What have twins -- happens also is pain. People feel pain in their skin and their bones before having any dysfunction or memory problem.

>>> Part of your research studies the mechanisms in the brain that makes some people crave addictive substances. Are those mechanisms inherited?
>> We know that 40 or 60% is inherited. Studies in humans and animals show that about 50%, it depends on whether you have the good genes of the badging -- bad genes. We know that addiction runs in the family. It doesn't necessarily mean that your grandfather father was you will have a higher risk. We are trying to figure out what of those genes. We have evidence that people have found genes in different receptors opioid receptors, they have a much greater risk to become addicted.

>>> One of the ways to treat addiction is to use medication. San Diego County just recently decided to rollout drug treatment programs that will give the patient's options of using medication to control addictions. How important to have that for an alternative ?
>> It is critical. To me it is surreal that you would not do it. You have probably 100 or 200 years of experience with behavioral treatment only. This means that the sober house, they work to some degree for some people. But we know that they are not sufficient. All the study so far show that if you combine the medication with the treatment, whether it is behavioral, therapy, or just social, when you combine those medications, then you have a much greater impact. It is critical. I think everybody should do both.

>>> Your research investigates how to identify the pathways in the brain that control drug-seeking behavior. What have you found?
>> We have identified is a specific group of neurons in different brains that control the craving. And especially what you can do with rats, you can intervene and control those neurons. You can use a laser to turn them on or off. And then you can prevent craving on the spot by pushing the button. You can put the craving back on by pushing the button again. It is really impressive. The problem is translating that to humans. Who would have an electrode put in their brain and the laser sharding there brain? Some people me. But we are not ready for that yet. May be in 20 or 30 years will be ready to do that. So we have a good biomarker and a good way to curb craning -- craving.

>>> Doctor George Professor of neuroscience at Scripps. He will be speaking tonight at a suds and science event at wavelength brewing in Vista starting at 6:30 PM. Thank you very much, Doctor George. And you're listening to KPBS Midday Edition.