New Research Reveals Possibilities In Brain-Stimulated Addiction Treatment

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Scientists have discovered a new brain network that could help explain why and how mental health disorders, including addiction, often occur together. The discovery could lead to advances in mental health treatment.

Possibilities In Brain-Stimulated Addiction Treatment

Researchers have discovered a brain network that is linked to several mental health disorders that often occur together, such as addiction, bipolar disorder, and depression.

Although specific regions of the brain had previously been identified as being associated with specific mental health disorders, this is the first time that scientists have identified that they “plug into” the same circuit.

The yet-to-be-named circuit also involves key regions of the brain associated with sensory processing, selective attention, and other cognitive functions.

Further research into how brain regions within this circuit interact could help scientists develop treatments for co-occurring disorders that focus on the interactions rather than just the regions.

Shared Brain Circuitry

Authors of the study noted that half of the people treated at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital’s Center for Brain Circuit Therapeutics in Boston show signs of more than one mental health disorder.

The study revealed that the following mental health disorders share the same underlying brain circuitry:

  • obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • addiction
  • depression
  • schizophrenia
  • bipolar disorder
  • anxiety

Researchers limited the study to these six disorders but believe that additional psychiatric disorders might also share the same circuitry.

Addiction And Co-Occurring Mental Health Disorders

When a substance use disorder occurs with another mental health disorder, it’s called a dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorders.

People with a mental illness are more likely to experience substance abuse than people without mental health issues. For example, there is a link between depression and alcohol abuse.

Along with depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder, which were all part of this study, addiction also often co-occurs with:

  • post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • mood disorders
  • conduct disorders

Addiction specialists know that treatment is more effective when co-occurring disorders are identified so that all of the person’s health needs can be met.

Popular substances of abuse in people with co-occurring disorders include:

  • alcohol
  • hallucinogens
  • marijuana
  • opioids
  • prescription drugs
  • stimulants (cocaine, methamphetamine, etc.)
  • tobacco

The new research sheds further light on why and how mental health disorders occur together, creating opportunities for noninvasive treatments involving brain circuitry.

Treating Possible Deficits In Function

Although this particular study didn’t identify where deficits in function are happening, it did point to the possibility that they are happening and where they might be found.

If these relationships within the brain circuitry are discovered, “fine-tuning” existing treatments could potentially be used to treat co-occurring disorders.
One example is transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), which stimulates neurons using magnetic fields. It is a non-invasive procedure currently approved for treating depression, OCD, and smoking cessation.

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