The hijacked brain

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

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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.


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Munro, M. The hijacked brain. Nature 522, S46–S47 (2015).

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