How to beat addiction

According to doctors as many as one in five Australians has a problem with substance use and and many of those people will develop an addiction.The annual cost to the community is estimated at $50 billion. That is more each year than the entire National Broadband Network is predicted to cost to build over 10 years.

The $50 billion includes not only the lost productivity and income of those with the problems, but the indirect costs to families of caring for affected people as well as the drain on the legal, health and policing systems.

Addiction is defined as compulsive seeking and using that has behavioural consequences. It is not about choice. Many people attempting to end an addiction suffer chronic relapses.

While the problem is evidently enormous, there is cause for optimism. Advances during the past 20 years in neuroscience – the study of the brain and nervous system – provide reason to believe the treatment of addiction might be poised for a breakthrough.

One of the few pioneers in this country on the use of neuroscience in addiction treatment is today’s guest in The Zone, Professor Jon Currie, who has just set up the National Centre for the Neurobiological Treatment of Addiction. The full transcript of our interview, as well as a short video statement by Currie, is at

”Addiction is a brain disorder, a brain disease. Addiction is about it not being a choice. Addiction is about compulsive use, or a compulsive behaviour, even knowing the negative health and social consequences. So the concept of ‘just say no’ does not really apply here.

”It is this compulsion to do it even if you have been told and you know and can even enunciate the risks and problem.” People can be addicted to alcohol, tobacco, illicit drugs, prescribed pain or sedative medication, and also to behaviours, including gambling and excessive food intake. Currie says Australia has focused on psychological and other counselling to support addicts, and been slow to the point of sclerotic in understanding, let alone embracing, medical treatments”. Continue reading


Michael Short is editor of The Zone. He also writes editorials and columns.

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