The hijacked brain

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Addiction is a devastating disease that alters the brain's circuitry, notably in young adults. But the changes need not be permanent: improved understanding of them will help in developing ways to lessen the burden. By Margaret Munro. See a Nature Video at


Many people have their first experience of drugs at a young age, placing them at high risk of addiction. The developing brain may not form properly under the influence of drugs or alcohol7.


The estimated annual cost of health care associated with substance misuse in the United States7.

  • 27 MILLION people had problematic drug use3 in 2012.
  • 183,000 drug-related deaths were reported in 2012.
  • 1 BILLION or more people smoke, with the majority living in low- to middle-income countries4.
  • 6 MILLION smokers die every year; more than 5 million of the deaths are directly related to tobacco use4.
  • 38.3% of the global population drinks alcohol, with an annual average of 17 litres per person4.
  • 3.3 MILLION deaths in 2012 were attributed to alcohol consumption4.


  1. Logrip, M. L., Koob, G. F. & Zorrilla, E. P. CNS Drugs 25, 271287 (2011);
  2. Schoenbaum, G. & Shaham, Y. Biol. Psychiatry 63, 256262 (2008);
  3. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime World Drug Report 2014 (United Nations, 2014);
  4. World Health Organization;
  5. Nestler, E. J. Nature Neurosci. 8, 14451449 (2005);
  6. Flagel, S. B. et al. Nature 469, 5357 (2011);
  7. US National Institute on Drug Abuse.

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  1. Report this comment #66311

    David Van Geert said:

    Something seems odd to me. In the standard literature I read alcohol has an excitatory effect on GABA, it binds to the postsynaptic neuron so more GABA can enter the cell, which in turn gives the sedative effect. Here I read alcohol suppresses the GABA neuron so less GABA is being produced which keeps the gates open for dopamine... Can I conclude alcohol has different effects on the same neurotransmittor depending on the region in the brain? If someone can help me with this, I would much appreciate it.

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