Fighting Opioid Addiction by Tackling Loneliness


Social isolation isn't just bad for your mood, it can be bad for your health too. Rachel Wurzman, a neuroscientist, says it also contributes to opioid addiction - fueling drug use, relapses, and overdoses.

According to an article in The Washington Post, Wurzman says she believes there is a way to make recovery from opioid addiction easier: social connection. That idea is informed by her work with the striatum, a region at the base of the forebrain that helps enable decision-making and is dramatically affected by social connection. Called the brain's autopilot, the striatum can also trigger compulsive behaviors, such as repeated drug use. Social isolation leaves the striatum in a hypersensitive state, she says, where people are more likely to chase a quick reward. The brain can translate loneliness into literal pain, and that can have disastrous consequences.

Wurzman adds that she sees hope in the very brain region that can fuel addiction. By connecting with other people over and over again, she says, people with opioid-use disorders can reduce their compulsive behaviors and their chance of relapse or overdose. This change relies on neuroplasticity - the brain's ability to rewire itself when new behaviors are practiced again and again.

This information taken from Wurzman's TEDxMidAtlantic talk, which can be viewed here.