WHO report says substance addiction treatable
Drug dependence is as much a brain disorder as any other neurological or psychiatric disorder and can be treated, according to a report released today by the World Health Organization.
The report, Neuroscience of Psychoactive Substance Use and Dependence, found that substance dependence is determined by biological and genetic factors as well as by psychosocial, cultural and environmental variables. It summarizes how genes interact with environmental factors to sustain substance-dependent behaviors.
The study, the first of its kind by WHO and three years in the making, also discusses new findings on how psychoactive substances can copy the effects of normal neurotransmitters, resulting in the disruption of normal brain functioning. It further includes a discussion of new research on craving, compulsive use, tolerance and the concept of dependence.
"Substance dependence is a chronic and often relapsing disorder, often co-occurring with other physical and mental conditions," said Catherine Le Gales-Camus, assistant director general of WHO's Noncommunicable Diseases and Mental Health division. "While we still do not know to what extent it is curable ... we do know that recovery from dependence is possible through a number of effective interventions."
WHO urged greater awareness of the complexities of substance dependence and how it is shaped by external factors. The organization also called for effective policies, as well as prevention and treatment approaches, that do not stigmatize substance abuse patients.
The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime estimates that 205 million people around the world use illicit substances. WHO emphasized, however, that the abuse of legal substances is an even greater problem, and that measures to reduce the harm from tobacco and alcohol, in particular, should be a public health priority. Each substance contributed about 4 percent to the burden of ill health in 2000, according to WHO, while illicit substances contributed less than 1 percent (WHO release, March 18).