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Could Siblings Help in Addiction Treatment?

New research from the University of Cambridge suggests that addiction is a “disorder of the brain” and that non-addicted siblings of addicts can help their brothers and sisters recover.  This is an exciting new development into addiction treatment.

Ever since Castle Craig Hospital was set up in 1988 we have known that addiction is a disease of the brain — and this knowledge has formed the foundation of our treatment programme. Part of this treatment includes an ‘Adult Children of Alcoholics’ group, and Family Therapy — explaining to  family members how to deal with the disease of addiction — and this new research shows an exciting new role that siblings can play in the long and complex process of recovery.

For a long time there have been divisions among experts about the impact on drugs on the brain. The big question was: does the consumption of drugs change the “wiring” in the brain, or are the brains of addicts wired differently in the first place?

The new study tries to address this question by comparing the brains of 50 cocaine or crack addicts with the brains of their siblings — none of whom were addicted to drugs.  The scientists found that the brains of brothers and sisters were similar in the part of the brain that controls behaviour: the fronto-striatal systems.

What this in turn suggests is that some people are genetically predisposed to addiction, and yet the siblings of these addicts manage to avoid becoming addicted by the exercise of self control.  As a result, the non-addicted siblings lead a very different lifestyle and tend to lose contact with their addicted brothers and sisters. As a result of these new findings, siblings may start to realise that they too can play a role in their brother and sisters recovery.

Lead researcher Dr Karen Ersche told the BBC: “It has long been known that not everyone who takes drugs becomes addicted…These brothers and sisters who don’t have addiction problems… can tell us is how they overcome these problems, how they manage self-control in their daily life.”