Issue 12 | June 2010

Cannabis sativa

Addiction

Addiction is a term we all use, but what do we mean? Addiction is complex, involving aspects of brain and body that are not well understood, along with social influences and personal history, which leaves plenty of room for disagreement among researchers and health workers about its diagnosis, causes, effects, treatment and prevention. This issue asks: What is addiction? How is the brain involved in addiction? How is addiction treated? What might the future of addiction hold?

Download the PDF, browse through the individual articles, check out our multimedia content and consider our lesson ideas. We’ve also picked out content from other issues that we think is especially relevant.

What is addiction?

Defining addiction

How do key health bodies define addiction?

Life’s a drag

Smoking cigarettes is the most widespread addiction worldwide because it delivers a powerful chemical, nicotine, very effectively

What is addictive behaviour?

In the 1990s, two researchers proposed wider models that included other behaviours. Which do you think is most comprehensive?

Addicted to mobiles?

Addiction isn’t just associated with drugs. If you have a mobile phone, do the bills shock you?

Who’s vulnerable?

A person’s chances of developing an addiction depend on what they are like, and what happens to them

Just like a drug

Drugs top the bill of addictive substances. Efforts to rank them generally take into account the good feelings – or intoxication – from taking a drug

Runs in the family

What role do your genes play in predisposing you to becoming addicted?

The brain and addiction

Looking in the brain

The brains of laboratory animals can be analysed to yield extremely precise data down to the firing of single neurons while they are taking in drugs

The brain’s reward system

An annotated guide to the areas of the brain involved with rewards

Drugs and the brain

Beneath every thought, dream or action lies a remarkable chemical dance. Molecules called neurotransmitters are in constant flux throughout the brain

All in the mind

Addicts have a problem with decisions. Even if, in theory, there is always a choice of what to do next, the addict keeps on doing the same thing

Like a rat in a cage

Sometimes animals ignore food and water in favour of another hit of cocaine. Researchers have learned a great deal about the brain circuits involved in addiction

Taking things to the extreme

One group of patients given a therapeutic drug have been part of an unintended experiment in addiction

My chemical romance

Drugs exploit the brain’s reward system to have their effects

Brain changing?

What does addiction do to your brain?

Case studies

Online, all the time?

Some people count compulsive use of the internet – usually for social networking or game playing – as an addiction

Double or quits?

Compulsive gambling has been studied more extensively than other non-drug addictions

How do researchers study gamblers?

Studying gamblers has plenty of potential pitfalls. Jennifer Trent Staves spoke to Professor Mark Griffiths to find out more

treatment

Psychological therapies

Many different psychological therapies are available to treat addiction

Pharmacological treatment

The most basic pharmacological approach, which is maintenance rather than treatment, is to prescribe the drug the patient depends on

Video: The line – Exploring addiction

Watch our video featuring an addiction therapist and Pablo ‘the drug mule dog’

Picking up the tab

Health services in the UK spend large amounts dealing with the effects of smoking and excessive drinking

Should we treat?

Is it always right to try and offer treatment to addicts?

Dependency

Tackling an addiction may mean dealing with a physical dependency

A high-tech solution?

Will we one day be vaccinating against drugs and alcohol?

Ethical questions

The ethics of cognitive enhancers

Would you pop a pill to improve your brain power? Penny Bailey talked to one researcher who works in the field of ethics to hear his views on these so-called ‘cognitive enhancers’

Drug classification: Should mephedrone be illegal?

Mephedrone has been in the news a lot lately. Should using or dealing this drug be illegal in the UK? By Amy Olson

History and culture

Old habits?

A history of drink, drugs and addiction

Addiction in books and films

Danny Birchall takes us through a selection of books and films – both classic and more modern – in which the theme of addiction plays a major part

History of addiction images

Browse our gallery of 16 historical and modern images exploring drug and alcohol use

The ethics of cognitive enhancers

Would you pop a pill to improve your brain power? Penny Bailey talked to one researcher who works in the field of ethics to hear his views on these so-called ‘cognitive enhancers’

Real Voices interviews

Real Voices interview: Dr Khaldoon Ahmed

Interview with a psychiatrist working in London

Real Voices interview: James*

Real Voices interview: James* (name changed) about his addiction

Real Voices interview: Catherine

Student with parents suffering from addiction

Video: Stuart – My gambling addiction

Stuart has a long history of addictive behaviour, particularly problem gambling. Now receiving counselling, he is attempting to turn his life around

Video: The line – Exploring addiction

Watch our video featuring an addiction therapist and Pablo ‘the drug mule dog’

Video: Beyond heroin – A story of loss and hope

Watch our video about parents dealing with their twin sons’ addiction

Activities and lesson ideas

Addiction prediction

Will addiction still be an issue in 25 years’ time? How about 100? Could there ever be such a thing as ‘harmless’ recreational drugs?

Deadliest drugs

This lesson idea uses an infographic about the number of drug deaths and media reports to spark debate and discussion

Further resources and activities on addiction

The Wellcome Trust has funded other organisations to produce the following activities and resources about addiction and related issues

Fast Facts

Each issue of 'Big Picture' comes with a sprinkling of Fast Facts, fascinating snippets of information on the topic covered.

Browse through all of our Fast Facts indexed by topic