Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Why Haven’t We Cured Addiction Yet?

Credit: Bits and Splits/Adobe

Credit: Bits and Splits/Adobe

By Shaun Khoo

Millions of people are struggling with addictions to smoking, drinking and drugs, but the search for new medications to help them quit remains elusive. Here’s why.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Scientists may seem as if they can do a lot, like genetic engineering or controlling neurons with light, but cures for many conditions remain elusive. One such condition is addiction, which involves compulsive drug-taking over a long period of time that interferes with a person’s ability to lead a normal life. Drug addiction has many negative effects on the health of the drug user and causes problems for other people at home, at work and through increased crime.

Despite the problems that addiction creates for people and their community, most drugs of addiction have, at best, only modestly effective anti-craving medications available. The result is that most patients will relapse even if they are given the best available counselling and medical treatment. Demand for anti-craving medicines is so strong that patients will turn to miracle cures that are more hype than substance, such as baclofen, a drug that became popular in France after a doctor wrote a book about using it to treat his own alcohol addiction.

However, as courageous as testing new treatments on yourself is, most scientists working to develop cures have a lot more hoops to jump through. The first step is to find a biological target that a new medicine can work on. For addiction, these are usually the signalling molecules in the brain, such as GABA (which is mimicked by baclofen), or the brain’s...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.