The neuroscience of addiction

Matilda Melkonian, Contributing Writer

By the time Professor of Psychology Judith Grisel turned 23, she had been kicked out of three schools and found herself homeless. Today, after years of research on the neuroscience of addiction, she is two weeks away from publishing her first book.


“Never Enough: The Neuroscience and Experience of Addiction,” coming out Feb. 19, is a scientific book with an autobiographical twist. It explains years of research that Grisel conducted to understand what predisposes people to addiction and what makes the brains of addicts different from those of non-addicts.


The research presented in her upcoming book was mainly completed from a mechanistic perspective. Despite the several ways to understand addiction – family dynamics, environment, community – Grisel felt an inclination towards investigating the biological causes of addiction.


“I’ve focused on everything from peptides to genes to enzymes, to early environment, to hormones. But I’m really interested in what’s different about the brains of people like me, either before, during, or after addiction,” Grisel said.


One of her most notable discoveries is finding a biological predisposition that is partly genetic. Increased exposure to illegal substances during critical developmental ages, such as your teenage years, increases the impact of that substance use. “I had my first good drink at 13,” Grisel said. “I spent the next 10 years saying yes to every mind-altering substance I could get my hands on.”


She also found that for adolescents, epigenetics was “really the bad news for people [of adolescent] age.” This finding also revealed that experimentation with drugs as an adolescent could alter the behavior of your own offspring. For example, your children may have an increased likelihood of suffering from anxiety or depression.


Despite her research, Grisel still acknowledges that the nature of her research topic still leaves many unresolved questions. “I almost think that there are as many paths to becoming an addict as there are addicts,” she says.


One of the chapters of her book, entitled “Why Me?,” grapples with knowing the probabilities of people becoming addicts, but not how those probabilities will play out. For instance, knowing that drug addiction and alcoholism runs in families does not mean that it will definitely impact those families.


For these unanswered questions, Grisel still has research grants and intends on further researching the impact sex differences has in alcohol consumption. The hidden message that she did find in her studies was that despite the difficulty of watching an addict struggle, it is important to remember their personality and history. “One of the factors that really predicts addiction is high novelty seeking,” Grisel said.


According to USA Today, 21 million people in America suffer from substance abuse. Therefore, it is important to remember the beneficiaries of the research and its value. As Grisel puts it, she finds herself to be someone who “likes to open doors, maybe in a way that almost killed me early on, but now it’s pretty good because it helps me stay active.”


Grisel said she hopes that the biggest takeaway for students reading her book is that there are so many opportunities and adventures to explore, rather than turning to drugs. “When I learned I couldn’t use, I felt like my life was over because it would be so boring – what would I do on any night?” Grisel said. “I was wrong about that. There are so many things to do. You know… you’re only alive for 90 or 100 years, so you might as well sleep when you’re dead.”

(Visited 397 times, 1 visits today)