Understanding Vulnerability to Substance Addictions

Saturday, February 13, 2016: 8:00 AM-9:30 AM
Marshall Ballroom East (Marriott Wardman Park)
Wilson Compton,National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD
Wouldn't it be wonderful to attribute our compulsion for addictive damaging activities, such as overeating, taking illicit drugs or smoking, wholly to our genetic make-up? Then, we would have a clear explanation for these complex behaviors. Yet, environmental influences shape and are shaped by our genetic predispositions. A key issue is that we know that certain behaviors are bad for us but we still do them. Why? My talk explores the latest brain research behind addictive behavior. Personalized medicine provides plenty of research linking genetics and disease. But establishing a relationship between genetic variation and behavior is trickier. How does over-consumption of high-fat food trigger addiction-like neuro adaptive responses in our brain-reward circuitry? Why do some users become addicted very rapidly while overall less than 25% of heroin users do so? How does nicotine work as the principal reinforcing component in tobacco smoke responsible for addiction? Genetics plays a key role but is only one part of the puzzle. Environments, including intrauterine, early childhood, school, neighborhood and broad social settings, all play a key role in determining addiction outcomes. The three strands of biological, psychological and social elements working together is key to both understanding and intervening to prevent or treat addictions.