Research News Roundup: September 30, 2021

    Addiction as a Brain Disease Revised: Why it Still Matters, and the Need for Consilience

    Journal: Neuropsychopharmacology, 2021, doi: 10.1038/s41386-020-00950-y

    Authors: Markus Heilig, James MacKillop, Diana Martinez, Jürgen Rehm, Lorenzo Leggio & Louk J. M. J. Vanderschuren


    The view that substance addiction is a brain disease, although widely accepted in the neuroscience community, has become subject to acerbic criticism in recent years. These criticisms state that the brain disease view is deterministic, fails to account for heterogeneity in remission and recovery, places too much emphasis on a compulsive dimension of addiction, and that a specific neural signature of addiction has not been identified. We acknowledge that some of these criticisms have merit, but assert that the foundational premise that addiction has a neurobiological basis is fundamentally sound. We also emphasize that denying that addiction is a brain disease is a harmful standpoint since it contributes to reducing access to healthcare and treatment, the consequences of which are catastrophic. Here, we therefore address these criticisms, and in doing so provide a contemporary update of the brain disease view of addiction. We provide arguments to support this view, discuss why apparently spontaneous remission does not negate it, and how seemingly compulsive behaviors can co-exist with the sensitivity to alternative reinforcement in addiction. Most importantly, we argue that the brain is the biological substrate from which both addiction and the capacity for behavior change arise, arguing for an intensified neuroscientific study of recovery. More broadly, we propose that these disagreements reveal the need for multidisciplinary research that integrates neuroscientific, behavioral, clinical, and sociocultural perspectives.

    To read the full text of the article, please visit the publisher’s website.

    Preliminary Study of Alcohol Problem Severity and Response to Brief Intervention

    Journal: Addiction Science & Clinical Practice, 2021, doi: 10.1186/s13722-021-00262-6

    Authors: Lindsay R. Meredith, Erica N. Grodin, Mitchell P. Karno, Amanda K. Montoya, James MacKillop, Aaron C. Lim & Lara A. Ray


    Background: Findings have been mixed as to whether brief intervention (BI) is appropriate and effective for individuals with more severe alcohol use problems. Motivation to change drinking has been supported as a mechanism of behavior change for BI. This exploratory study examined aspects of motivation as mechanisms of clinical response to BI and alcohol problem severity as a moderator of treatment effects.

    Methods: Non-treatment-seeking heavy drinkers (average age = 35 years; 57% male) were randomized to receive BI (n = 27) or attention-matched control (n = 24). Three indices of motivation to change were assessed at baseline and post-intervention: importance, confidence, and readiness. Moderated mediation analyses were implemented with treatment condition as the focal predictor, changes in motivation as mediator, 1-month follow-up drinks per day as the outcome, and an alcohol severity factor as second-stage moderator.

    Results: Analysis of importance displayed a significant effect of intervention condition on importance (p < 0.003) and yielded a significant index of moderated mediation (CI − 0.79, − 0.02), indicating that the conditional indirect effect of treatment condition on drinking through importance was stronger for those with higher alcohol severity. For all motivation indices, alcohol severity moderated the effect of post-intervention motivation levels on drinking (p’s < 0.05). The direct effect of treatment condition on drinking was not significant in any model.

    Conclusions: Findings highlight the relevance of considering one’s degree of alcohol problem severity in BI and alcohol screening efforts among non-treatment seeking heavy drinkers. These nuanced effects elucidate both potential mechanisms and moderators of BI response.

    To read the full text of the article, please visit the publisher’s website.

    Addressing Cigarette Smoking Cessation Treatment Challenges During the COVID-19 Pandemic with Social Media

    Journal: Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 2021, doi: 10.1016/j.jsat.2021.108379

    Authors: Meredith C. Meacham, Erin A. Vogel, Johannes Thrul, Danielle E. Ramo, & Derek D. Satre


    This commentary reviews barriers to smoking cessation during the COVID-19 pandemic and the potential of social media-based smoking cessation programs. Several published randomized controlled trials are summarized and future directions for designing and evaluating social media-based smoking cessation programs are described.

    To read the full text of the article, please visit the publisher’s website.

    Polygenic Scores for Smoking and Educational Attainment Have Independent Influences on Academic Success and Adjustment in Adolescence and Educational Attainment in Adulthood

    Journal: PsyArXiv, 2021, doi: 10.31234/

    Authors: Brian M. Hicks, D. Angus Clark, Joseph D. Deak, Jonathan D. Schaefer, Mengzhen Liu, Seonkyeong Jang, C. Emily Durbin, Wendy Johnson, Sylia Wilson, William G. Iacono, Matt McGue & Scott I. Vrieze


    Educational success is associated with greater quality of life and depends, in part, on heritable cognitive and non-cognitive traits. We used polygenic scores (PGS) for smoking—a measure of genetic influences on behavioral disinhibition—and educational attainment to examine different genetic influences on facets of academic adjustment in adolescence and educational attainment in adulthood. PGSs were calculated for participants of the Minnesota Twin Family Study (N = 3225) and included as predictors of grades, academic motivation, and discipline problems at ages 11, 14, and 17 years-old and educational attainment at age 29. Smoking and educational attainment PGSs had significant incremental associations with each academic variable. About half of the adjusted effects of the smoking and educational PGSs on educational attainment at age 29 were mediated by the academic variables in adolescence. Distinct genetic influences related to behavioral disinhibition and educational attainment contribute to academic adjustment in adolescence and educational attainment in adulthood.

    To read the full text of the article, please visit the publisher’s website.

    Risk and Resilience for Alcohol Use Disorder Revealed in Brain Functional Connectivity

    Journal: NeuroImage: Clinical, 2021, doi: 10.1016/j.nicl.2021.102801

    Authors: Amanda Elton, James C. Garbutt & Charlotte A. Boettiger


    A family history of alcoholism (FH) increases risk for alcohol use disorder (AUD), yet many at-risk individuals never develop alcohol use problems. FH is associated with intermediate levels of risk phenotypes, whereas distinct, compensatory brain changes likely promote resilience. Although several cognitive, behavioral, and personality factors have been associated with AUD, the relative contributions of these processes and their neural underpinnings to risk or resilience processes remains less clear. We examined whole-brain resting-state functional connectivity (FC) and behavioral metrics from 841 young adults from the Human Connectome Project, including healthy controls, individuals with AUD, and their unaffected siblings. First, we identified functional connections in which unaffected siblings were intermediate between controls and AUD, indicating AUD risk, and those in which siblings diverged, indicating resilience. Canonical correlations relating brain risk and resilience FC to behavioral patterns revealed AUD risk and resilience phenotypes. Risk phenotypes primarily implicated frontal-parietal networks corresponding with executive function, impulsivity, externalizing behaviors, and social-emotional intelligence. Conversely, resilience-related phenotypes were underpinned by networks of medial prefrontal, striatal, temporal, brainstem and cerebellar connectivity, which associated with high trait attention and low antisocial behavior. Additionally, we calculated “polyphenotypic” risk and resilience scores, to investigate how the relative load of risk and resilience phenotypes influenced the probability of an AUD diagnosis. Polyphenotypic scores predicted AUD in a dose-dependent manner. Moreover, resilience phenotypes interacted with risk phenotypes, reducing their effects. The hypothesis-generating results revealed interpretable AUD-related phenotypes and offer brain-informed targets for developing more effective interventions.

    To read the full text of the article, please visit the publisher’s website.


    September 2021