In a scientific assessment recently published in Biological Psychiatry – A Journal of Psychiatric Neuroscience and Therapeutics, researchers now propose using a neuroscience-based framework for diagnosing addictive disorders.

The new framework, the Addiction Neurological Assessment (ANA), would include the consideration of addiction-related behavior, brain imaging, and genetic data. Researchers believe this new method could lead to a better understanding of the biological elements contributing to addiction and may help them develop more individualized addiction treatments which may prove more effective than current methods.

The group of scientists from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), include David Goldman, George F. Koob, Laura E. Kwako, Raye Z. Litten, and Reza Momenan.

“The assessment framework that we describe recognizes the great advances that continue to be made in our understanding of the neuroscience of addiction. These advances underscore how much we know about the core neurobiological manifestations of addiction in people.” NIAAA director and co-author of the review, George F. Koob, Ph.D., said in a press release.

The Addiction Neurological Assessment Diagnostic

The ANA behavioral assessment would examine a patients’ performance of three functional processes relevant to addictive behavior. Those processes include incentive salience, negative emotionality, and deficits in executive functioning. Insensitive salience refers to a behavior in which a person sees objects or events as more attractive or important than they actually are because taking drugs altered their perception. Negative emotionality occurs when a person experiences negative emotional responses at a higher rate than normal when they can’t get their drug of choice. Executive functioning refers to how a person organizes their behavior in relation to achieving future goals.

The ANA method incorporates new knowledge gained from previous neurological studies. Whereas previous methods often focused on whichever particular substance to which a person became addicted, the ANA method focuses more on the behaviors common to addicts regardless of substance.

First author Laura E. Kwako, Ph.D., a researcher and the Office of the NIAAA Clinical Director, told the press “We currently approach addiction diagnosis as a ‘yes or no’ proposition. The Addictions Neuroclinical Assessment that we propose leverages knowledge of the neuroscience of addiction to identify a package of assessments that may be used to more precisely identify different subtypes of addictive disorders.”

The authors of this proposal liken their new approach to the way clinicians diagnose cancer. Just like a cancer diagnosis can include cellular, genetic, molecular, and imaging information, as well as a patient’s clinical history, the ANA method for diagnosing addiction will include information from several different sources. In regards to cancer, combining multiple data sources to form a diagnosis has led to more individualized treatment programs. Researchers hope this treatment development will repeat when using the ANA method to combine data during diagnosis for addiction.

“Although addiction treatment options exist, and indeed continue to expand, they are limited by significant within-diagnosis heterogeneity and by a failure, thus far, to define addictive disorders by their neurobiological substrates,” Dr. Koob said.

The benefits of the ANA diagnostic technique.

From causes to consequences and from prevention to treatment, the NIAA conducts research on all aspects of alcohol use disorder. It also publishes research findings to professionals in the field, students, and the general population.

As the nation’s medical research agency, the NIH includes 27 Institutes and Centers. It is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It is the primary federal agency for researching causes of and treatments for diseases.

Researching the causes of addiction and the best treatments to fight it has never been more important. According to information gathered by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) with its National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 23.5 million people in the United States needed treatment for abusing drugs or alcohol in 2009. That’s nearly ten percent of the population over 12 years old. Of those 23.5 million, only 2.6 million received the treatment they needed. That’s only 11.2 percent.

With so many Americans suffering from addiction and so few getting help, lives are continually in danger. If the knowledge gathered through the new ANA diagnostic technique leads to new treatment methods, more people may find a treatment option that fits their lifestyle and finally get the help they need. In this way, more treatment options can lead to more people getting treated.

As more people who need addiction treatment begin to actually receive it, the stigma of being labeled an addict is lessened. If the stigma associated with addiction is lessened, even more people struggling with addiction may find the strength to get help. In this way, the new diagnostic technique could kick start a snowball effect that could lead to more treatment for more folks who need it. In turn, that uptick in treatment could save lives.

If you or a loved one feels a need to overcome an addiction, contact BLVD Treatment Centers. At BLVD Treatment Centers we custom tailor our recovery programs within the safe and nurturing confines of our rehab treatment centers. Located throughout Southern California, in Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego and in Portland, OR, our mission is to assess the severity of your addiction to help you achieve true recovery. Call us now at 1-866.582.9844.

Scientists propose new way to diagnose addiction