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The BRAIN Initiative, or Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies, is a nationwide effort initiated by President Obama that seeks to use new and emerging technologies to advance our understanding of the human brain and its functioning. Ideally this initiative will lead to a greater understanding of (and possible treatment/prevention for) a wide range of brain disorders- including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, autism, epilepsy, schizophrenia, depression, and even addiction. Does this mean an eventual “cure” for addiction might be possible?

Let’s Back Up a Minute.

As a part of the BRAIN Initiative, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (a branch of the NIH responsible for funding, execution, and utilization of solid scientific research aimed at furthering our knowledge of drug abuse and addiction) is heavily involved in funding research that investigates how the circuits and pathways in the brain contribute to addiction. The idea being, if we know what conditions in the brain “cause” or make one vulnerable to brain disorders, including addiction or alcoholism, we can put in place preventative measures, or even potentially reverse these conditions. For a vast range of diseases, such as depression, Alzheimer’s Disease, and autism, this initiative gives legitimate hope to sufferers and their loved ones. And certainly having a greater understanding of physical addiction would be immensely helpful for the advancement of prevention and awareness in the addiction and recovery community. But unfortunately, in terms of a cure, addiction is a different breed of brain disorder.

Will we ever have a “cure” for addiction?

Unfortunately, the answer is, not very likely. Reason being, yes- there is certainly a physical basis for addiction. Science has provided us with proven genetic variations that increase one’s susceptibility to addictive behaviors, whether they apply to specific classes of drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex, or others. There is now a clear genetic link to addiction, although the specific vulnerabilities or gene combinations have yet to be discovered. What that means is, if you come from a long line of alcoholics or addicts in your family, your odds of developing a similar problem are increased. However, it isn’t a guarantee. Many people who come from such backgrounds develop into stable, successful adults that are capable of social drinking or not abusing drugs. Further, many people without any family history of addiction still go on to develop a problem themselves.

We in the recovery community understand that this is because addiction is not purely a physical or biological disease. It also has both mental and spiritual components, which need to be addressed and treated in order for total “recovery” to occur. We should also note here that being “recovered” from alcoholism or addiction does not mean you are no longer an addict or an alcoholic. It simply means that provided you are working a program of recovery and continue to put in as much work to your sobriety as you did when you first got sober, that you will no longer suffer from the obsession to drink or use, and can live peacefully, taking life on life’s terms.

So, while the BRAIN Initiative is incredibly important for science and for our understanding of a range of diseases, when it comes to the disease of addiction, the implications for its advancements should be taken with a grain of salt. We may one day have the “blueprint” for brain dysregulation that increases vulnerability to alcoholism or addiction, and this certainly can be useful in implementing prevention and awareness. But with addiction, there is no one cut-and-dry “cause”, and for the true addict or alcoholic, once the disease is active, the only thing that will ensure continued sobriety is the maintenance and growth of a program of recovery.

For more information on the BRAIN Initiative, go to http://braininitiative.nih.gov/about.htm.