Updated 10/22/2012 05:00 AM
Healthy Living: The science of addiction
Over the years, research has led to a better understanding of addiction. And new technologies have allowed doctors and patients to really see how drug use affects the brain. Our Katie Gibas reports.
To view our videos, you need to
install Adobe Flash 9 or above. Install now.
Then come back here and refresh the page.
Dr. Elizabeth Berry is a clinical psychologist. She's worked with people who are drug and alcohol addicts for more than 30 years.
"When it was just alcohol, as our knowledge of brain development grew, we could keep up with how these kinds of drugs like alcohol and heroin affected the developing brain. Now, with the synthetics, it's very difficult to know what's in these drugs, so it's very hard to predict how these drugs will affect developing brains and bodies," said Dr. Berry, a clinical psychologist at Crouse Hospital in Syracuse.
That use in young people is the biggest concern because the average age someone starts using drugs or alcohol is 14. And the brain doesn't stop developing until your mid to late 20s.
"The drugs are affecting the brain as it develops. It's the prefrontal or the cerebral cortex, the thinking part of the brain that is most clearly affected," said Dr. Berry.
Over the years, research has led to a better understanding of addiction. And new technologies have allowed doctors and patients to really see how drug use affects the brain.
"People say, 'I'm brain dead' or 'my brain is shrunk.' That actually is true. You can see that parts of the brain aren't lighting up. They're not functioning as well, and it changes the structural part of the brain.," said Dr. Berry.
Addiction is partially genetic and partially environmental, like many diseases including diabetes.
"I hear people say, 'Well they just need to stop drinking.' And it's kind of like someone saying to someone with diabetes, 'Well you just need to stop eating.' We still have this kind of mystical idea attached to chemical dependency that somehow it's will power, that you can choose whether or not to abuse a drug," said Dr. Berry.
Dr. Berry says if you have a family history of dependency, the best treatment is prevention.
Don't start and don't experiment. If you get the disease, it's not curable. But it can be treated and managed if you make very real lifestyle changes and have the support system needed for success.