The Treatment of Drug Abuse

The National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) definition of drug addiction as "a chronic relapsing disease of the brain, which is expressed in behavioral ways and occur in a social context", expresses the difficulties one meets when trying to treat this condition. The treatment of addict patients comprises pharmacologic agents and psychotherapeutic procedures aimed at helping them to reshape their behaviors.

For sure, present knowledge about the neurobiochemical changes that happen as cause or consequence of drug abuse, have helped us to develop more efficient drugs and treatment strategies. The use of substances that modify opioid and GABAergic/glutamatergic neurotransmission, like naltrexone and acamprosate, respectively, helps alcoholic patients to remain abstinent. Naltrexone abolishes the alcohol-induced reward, and acamprosate reduces the drinking crave. Notwithstanding, we are still very far from a treatment that satisfies all our needs. Genetic therapy represents a future hope. If we arrive to identify the genes that answer for the neurobiochemical changes leading to drug-abuse, we may perhaps correct them.

Will it be possible for mankind, in a future time, to become completely drug-free? Or will it be more reasonable to imagine that we shall be able to develop perfect psychoative drugs, with few noxious side-effets, like the soma mentioned by Aldous Huxley in his book Brave New World, capable of inducing a remarkable sensation of well-being, quieting even existential anxieties? Only time will tell.

Brain & Mind Magazine 3(8), Jan/March 1999
An Initiative by the Center for Biomedical Informatics
Copyright (c) 1998 Universidade Estadual de Campinas, Brasil
Published on 18/Jan/1998