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NatCon16: Five-year model leads to better treatment outcomes

March 14, 2016
by Julia Brown, Associate Editor
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Addiction is a chronic disease of the brain, however, its neuroplasticity can allow it to recover, studies show. According to Nora Volkow, MD, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, there are factors that can help support addiction recovery.

“Best practices have been observed when a patient is provided some level of support and therapy,” she said at NatCon 2016 in Las Vegas last week. “But the best outcomes are when treatment support services are provided for patients for at least five years."

As an example, she talked about a methamphetamine user who stopped using and whose brain scans showed indications of recovery after 14 months. She added that while addiction can be long-lasting, it can successfully be treated.

"This is the message we have to carry on to our patients," Volkow said. "As in any other disease, when treatment stops, symptoms often return. Remaining in treatment for an adequate period of time is critical." 

She added that a multiplicity of factors during recovery can increase stress levels and lead to relapse, such as familial influence and other comorbid mental illnesses.

Because of the uniqueness of any individual's brain, Volkow said, no single treatment will work across the board for everyone. She emphasized the importance of tailored treatment.

“Our brain function varies enormously from person to person,” she said.

Addiction is a developmental disease that often starts at a young age. Because the average brain isn’t fully formed until the early twenties, adolescents are at a much higher risk to become addicted. This is why early prevention intervention must become a priority, she said.