Medical technology is advancing rapidly, and researchers believe they’ve found a way to determine who will and will not relapse. We take a look at the pros of cons of precision addiction medicine.
Medical technology like magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has lead to huge advancements in how we understand addiction (in addition to many other diseases) and has been helpful in creating modern addiction treatment programmes.
But now, these medical technologies are being combined with computer-driven algorithms to shift the diagnosis and treatment of many diseases. In most cases of serious medical illness, this will inevitably be a good thing. But in the realm of behavioural health, and specifically where addiction is concerned, these new developments must be integrated with caution.
Diagnosing and Treating Addiction with Medical Technology
MRI scans have given researchers a glimpse into the working brain in a way that many other scans such as the X-ray, EEGs, PET scans and DTIs have not been able to do. MRIs enable researchers to watch which areas of the brain are activated, or ‘light up’ in response to various stimuli.
Comparing ‘normal’ brain activity to the brain activity of an addict can provide many insights as to where damage has been done to the brain. They also help to paint an overall picture of which networks and nerve systems in the brain are working (or not working) properly, and how well neurons are connecting overall.
Analysing the Reward System and Drug Cravings with MRI Scans
In a healthy brain, the reward system allows you to correctly analyse situations in the decision making process. For example, one might think, “If I have a drink, I won’t get my work done,” or, “If I come home high again it will cause an argument with my partner, or I may get arrested like before.” These are conclusions that have been learned from past experiences. MRI research shows, however, that brains with higher amounts of brain damage or disease from drug abuse are less likely to have fully functional reward systems.
What this means is that under normal circumstances, the need for a paycheque, keeping peace with a partner or staying out of jail can overcome cravings. For addicts whose brains have been damaged by drug abuse, however, the craving for drugs can overcome any of those needs – even, for some, the needs of eating and sleeping.
By analysing the correlation between brain damage and the reward system and cravings, researchers claim to have found a direct correlation between damaged brain tissue and the risk for relapse.
Predicting Relapse with Precision Medicine Algorithms
Understanding how the brain is affected by addiction is, of course, great news. However, it’s estimated that there are anywhere from 86 billion to 100 billion brain cells in the human head. These are all joined together on a massive network of synapses and impulses from neuron to neuron. The MRI has been a major help in mapping these systems out. However, the sheer amount of neurons means that this network produces immense amounts of data. To help make sense of all of this information, new computer algorithms have recently been introduced.
It used to be that personality tests were often used in planning treatment for an addict. Later on, MRI scans were used alongside these tests – matching substance abusers’ personalities with the results of the MRIs. Now, there is a triple combination being used: personality tests, MRI scans and statistics – in other words, algorithms.
One such algorithm has been coined the random-forest statistic. MRI results are fed into this statistic and are analysed and re-ordered from several different angles – not just one way (which was common with older tests). A 2015 study showed evidence that it may be possible to feed MRI results into the random-forest statistic to generate predictions for relapse rates. Furthermore, the combination of the random-forest statistic with the individual’s MRI results and personality test showed to be a good predictor of relapse for those in addiction recovery.
The Pros and Cons of Predicting Relapse
Having a greater understanding of which brains are more likely to experience relapse is great for practitioners developing more effective addiction treatment plans. However, especially in the case of addicts, is knowing that you are in the high-risk category for relapse really beneficial?
Long-term addiction recovery is not achieved simply through treatment. Recovery entails a holistic approach and a life of commitment, hard work and dedication. If an addict is told that they’re high-risk for relapse, it will almost inevitably lead to feelings of hopelessness, fear, anger, stress and even depression – all of which are considered top relapse triggers. For some, just the stress of undergoing testing could be enough to trigger a relapse.
Technology is getting more advanced by the second, and it’s fascinating and exciting to learn more and more each day about why addiction and relapse happen – but as treatment providers we must step back and think about the fact that while these statistics may be beneficial for research purposes, it’s incredibly important to exercise caution when using these technologies.
Modern Addiction Treatment at The Cabin Chiang Mai
The Cabin Chiang Mai is part of The Cabin Addiction Services Group, a leading group of international rehab facilities. We are constantly incorporating the latest and most effective treatment methods into our standard programmes.
Currently, we use a combination of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), mindfulness therapy, physical activity and our own three-circles programme to treat all types of addiction efficiently and effectively. For more information on our innovative treatment method, please contact us today.