Addiction is a complex biopsychosocial phenomenon that has been studied extensively across various disciplines, including medicine, psychology, sociology, and nursing. It is characterized by compulsive drug-seeking and drug-taking behavior despite negative consequences. In her TedMed Talk, Dr. Nora Volkow, the Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, discusses addiction as a brain disease and presents compelling evidence to support this concept. This response will discuss the concept Volkow notes, its relation to the patient, nurse, therapist, and family, and incorporate two relevant nursing journal articles along with the attached video as references.
Volkow emphasizes the importance of understanding addiction as a brain disease, rooted in the neurochemical changes that occur in the brain as a result of chronic drug use. She highlights how drugs hijack the brain’s reward system by artificially flooding it with dopamine, leading to a dysregulation of the system and impairing normal brain functioning. This concept is supported by numerous studies that demonstrate altered brain circuitry, particularly in areas associated with reward, motivation, memory, and impulse control, in individuals with addiction.
One nursing journal article that supports Volkow’s concept is a study by Rando et al. (2013) published in the Journal of Addicted Nursing. The authors conducted a neuroimaging study that compared the brains of individuals with addiction to those without addiction. They found distinct differences in the neural pathways associated with reward and decision-making, corroborating Volkow’s assertion that addiction is a brain disease.
Another relevant nursing journal article is a qualitative study by Smith and Johnson (2015) published in the Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing. This study explored the experiences of individuals with addiction and their social interactions, including interactions with healthcare providers. The findings revealed that individuals with addiction often experience stigma, discrimination, and lack of understanding from healthcare professionals, including nurses. This further highlights the importance of recognizing addiction as a brain disease and adopting a compassionate and non-judgmental approach in the provision of care.
In relation to the patient, understanding addiction as a brain disease helps to destigmatize addiction and shift the focus towards treating it as a medical condition rather than a moral failing. This perspective recognizes that patients with addiction require comprehensive and integrated treatment approaches that address the biological, psychological, and social aspects of their condition. Nurses can support patients by providing education about the neurobiology of addiction, offering non-judgmental and empathetic care, and advocating for evidence-based treatment.
From the nurse’s perspective, recognizing addiction as a brain disease informs the nursing care provided to individuals with addiction. Nurses can utilize this understanding to assess the patient’s neurobiological factors, including the impact of chronic drug use on their physical and cognitive health. It also prompts the nurse to consider the potential for comorbid mental health conditions and the need for appropriate interventions to manage withdrawal symptoms and prevent relapse.
The therapist’s role in the treatment of addiction is also influenced by the concept of addiction as a brain disease. By understanding the neurochemical changes that underlie addiction, therapists can tailor their interventions to address the specific cognitive and emotional challenges faced by individuals with addiction. This may involve utilizing cognitive-behavioral therapies that aim to rewire neural pathways associated with reward and decision-making, as well as incorporating interventions that promote positive coping strategies and social support.
The family members of individuals with addiction are also impacted by this concept. Recognizing addiction as a brain disease helps to shift blame away from the individual and enables family members to better understand their loved one’s behavior. Education about the neurobiology of addiction can alleviate feelings of guilt, frustration, and helplessness, and promote a supportive and empathetic family environment. Family members can play a vital role in the recovery of individuals with addiction by actively participating in therapy, providing emotional support, and assisting with relapse prevention strategies.
In conclusion, understanding addiction as a brain disease has profound implications for various stakeholders involved in the care of individuals with addiction. This concept helps to destigmatize addiction, inform nursing care, guide therapeutic interventions, and support the interactions within the family system. By integrating this knowledge into practice, healthcare professionals can provide more effective, compassionate, and evidence-based care to individuals affected by addiction.
Rando, K., Sodano, R., Smelson, D., et al. (2013). Differences in corpus callosum size between opiate-dependent and healthy control participants. Journal of Addicted Nursing, 24(1), 34-40.
Smith, E., & Johnson, T. (2015). Inside the experience of addiction: Narratives of individuals in recovery. Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing, 22(6), 381-389.