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Can Neuroscience Improve Addiction Treatment and Policies?


The main target of alcohol and other drug self-administration is the brain. For this reason understanding of brain mechanisms (i.e., neuroscience research) may offer important insights for creating effective prevention and treatment interventions, as well as fair and appropriate drug policies. Fair and appropriate drug policies (public laws and regulations) are expected to reduce the harms of drugs to the user and to society in general, while minimizing unintended but related policy “side effects.”

In this paper we explore how more informed understanding of neuroscience may help to improve the effectiveness and reduce the unintended side effects of contemporary drug policies. The article goes on to suggest some rational ways neuroscience may better inform and assist in policy decisions. We cover currently illegal drugs plus others such as alcohol and tobacco and touch on the new and emerging substances—legal highs.


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Correspondence to David Nutt FMedSci.

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Nutt, D., McLellan, A.T. Can Neuroscience Improve Addiction Treatment and Policies?. Public Health Rev 35, 5 (2013).

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Key Words

  • Neuroscience
  • addiction treatment
  • drug policy
  • alcohol
  • tobacco