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NIAAA researchers develop a new assessment tool for substance addiction

Researchers at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), a division of the National Institutes of Health, recently proposed a new assessment tool for substance addiction that will facilitate understanding addiction at the biological level. The tool, Addictions Neuroclinical Assessment (ANA), incorporates addiction-related behaviors, brain imaging, and genetic data with the intention of producing a more personalized treatment plan.

The ANA’s behavioral aspect includes the evaluation of three functional processes considered most relevant to addiction: altered perception of an object or event by drug-taking that makes it seem more attractive or important (incentive salience), increased negative emotional responses (negative emotionality) when drugs are no longer available, and deficits in organizing behavior toward future goals (executive functioning) (

“The assessment framework that we describe recognizes the great advances that continue to be made in our understanding of the neuroscience of addiction,” said NIAAA director George F. Koob, Ph.D., a co-author of the review said in an NIAAA news release. “These advances underscore how much we know about the core neurobiological manifestations of addiction in people.”

Generally, addictive disorders are classified depending on the substance of abuse, for example, alcohol versus cocaine. However, the similarities and differences between addicted patients do not stay within the bounds defined by which substance each patient respectively abuses. This new, multidimensional tool will allow providers to recommend courses of treatment not only based on substance, but also on neurobiological factors.

In other fields, such as oncology, combining patient information from multiple sources such as imaging scans, clinical history, and genomics to create a treatment plan is commonplace. The scientists in this study hope that individualization in addiction therapy can become a similar reality.

“Although addiction treatment options exist, and indeed continue to expand, they are limited by significant within-diagnosis heterogeneity and by a failure, thus far, to define addictive disorders by their neurobiological substrates,” said NIAAA director George F. Koob, Ph.D., a co-author of the review.

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