The Persistent Problem
How many times have you heard about someone who was struggling with alcohol or drug addiction? It’s a very common occurrence as substance abuse continues to harm thousands of users and their loved ones.
Researchers and health advocates have quite the task on their hands as they try to combat the ever-growing problem of addiction. Substance abuse is a serious concern and not something to take lightly. Many lives are lost, and a lot money is spent as a result of prolonged alcohol and drug use.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the costs are high. Every year, the combined costs of addiction to alcohol, tobacco, and illicit drugs exceed more than $740 billion. This includes hefty price tags that are related to lost work productivity, health care, and crime that result from substance abuse.
In 2011, tobacco abuse created $168 billion in health care costs alone, while alcohol accounted for $27 billion and prescription opioids cost $26 billion. These numbers keep going up as the opioid epidemic grips our nation. More and more lives are lost to substance abuse, and new users try alcohol and drugs for the first time.
The CDC keeps track of the substance abuse problem as Americans are adversely affected by substances that can destroy and devastate their lives. In 2016, over 64,000 people in the U.S. died from drug overdoses alone. This includes both prescriptions and illicit drugs, which are far too easy for people to get their hands on these days.
Chronic Health Problems
One of the huge challenges is that prolonged and persistent use of these substances causes chronic health problems. From a poor physical appearance to heart and liver failure, there are countless health risks when it comes to abusing drugs and alcohol. That’s why researchers and medical teams are working to come up with better ways to treat addiction and save lives.
There are many different treatment methods and beliefs of approaching the sensitive topic of addiction, but some experts believe one recent discovery in particular, may hold the key to curbing addiction rates and ensuring a better future for generations to come.
The Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior brought together some of the brightest minds and discovered a connection between the gut hormones, such as Ghrelin and Amylin, involved in obesity and overeating with the hormones that lead to addiction. These researchers believe that this accomplishment could open doors in the world of addiction treatment, as the same hormones that trigger the body’s feelings of hunger and fullness are also at play in drug and alcohol addiction.
This could be the breakthrough that so many advocates and health officials have been hoping for. Researchers shared their confidence that we could soon see new and improved addiction treatments, as there are several drugs that affect gut hormones with FDA approval or awaiting the go-ahead from government officials.
Scientists have long understood that the human body reacts a certain way to satisfactory feelings like eating or drinking. These new findings point to hard-working hormones that could be causing the addictive feelings.
Gut hormones tell the human brain to regulate dopamine signaling, which affects a person’s decision to seek out pleasurable behavior or rewards, whether that be eating a certain food, drinking alcohol, or taking drugs.
If you think about it, this explains why food and water become less or more appetizing and appealing depending on how hungry or thirsty you are. Drugs use the same dopamine circuits within the brain, so it’s likely that gut hormones could trigger different rewarding effects this way.
In other words, a person’s addiction is made possible by hormones that make them enjoy and ultimately crave the feeling and sensations they experience while under the influence. Dr. Lorenzo Leggio and other members of the NIDA and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism say a hunger hormone from the stomach called Ghrelin could increase the reward factor of alcohol very similarly to the way it heightens the reward value of certain foods. In a series of experiments and studies, researchers from the NIAAA/NIDA partnership found that Ghrelin encourages alcohol consumption in people with an addiction to alcohol.
With these recent discoveries, medical professionals can apply the new learnings to their treatment programs. Perhaps by targeting these particular hunger hormones, doctors could reduce the many feelings associated with addiction. There are other gut hormones that may play a role that tell the brain when someone has eaten enough food and is full.
Multiple animal studies have found that medications that increase the activity of these hormones lower the rewarding feelings of drugs and alcohol. Researchers are excited about the possibility that giving an addicted person certain medications could influence their hormones in a way that reduces addictive tendencies as naturally as possible.
At the end of the day, advances in medicine, and especially medical research could be game changers in substance abuse treatment. Discoveries and observations can open up new doors for a better addiction treatment .
Much more research will need to be done in the coming years regarding hunger hormones and their role in addiction, but for right now, it’s always in your best interests to stay current on what’s happening in this part of society.
If you, your family, friends or coworkers are struggling to cope with drug or alcohol addiction, know that you are not alone and there are plenty of dedicated resources and researchers out there ready to help you make the best choice. Organizations like A Better Today Recovery Services exist to lend support and guidance to those in need of assistance during the tough journey of addiction.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jenn Mullin is a freelance writer, focusing on social, economic, and political issues. Her inspiration is writing about topics which provoke thought and start conversations surrounding important and controversial issues.