Addiction and neuroscience

Melb Museum - drugs 1

How are the neurosciences reshaping notions of addiction? What will their legacy be? Is public opinion behind brain science accounts of addiction? SSAC program leader Associate Professor Suzanne Fraser was invited to consider these questions at a recent conference held at the University of Queensland (UQ). Run by UQ’s Neuroethics Group (UQ Centre for Clinical Research, led by Professor Wayne Hall), this event hosted presentations on the following topics:

• The impact of neuroscience on public and private understandings of addiction
• The future of tobacco control
• Cognitive enhancement
• Sports concussion
• DBS, dopamine and compulsive behaviour

Suzanne’s presentation concentrated on public understandings of neuroscientific accounts of addiction. Responding to a paper presented by Dr Carla Muerk of UQ, she argued that the full influence of neuroscience will probably not be felt for some time, and that in assessing this impact we need to be ready to track subtle and metaphorical effects of neuroscientific discourse. Speaking after the conference, Suzanne put it this way: ‘the impact of neuroscience needs to be tracked in the subtle uses of language and imagery as well as in the overt arguments that might be made about the brain, the body and the self. All around us right now we’re seeing the effects of neuroscientific discourse – we see magazine ads depict colourful brains floating in space, we talk of brains ‘lighting up’ in response to events or ‘stimuli’, or of ourselves as ‘hard-wired’ for some things and not others. These figures of speech and images carry logics which help shape the way we see the world, its processes and its possibilities.’ Reflecting on the rise of neuroscience, Suzanne pointed to genetics, noting that the ‘wired brain’ is increasingly standing in for the human genome in our ways of understanding our selves.