The American Society of Addiction Medicine defines addiction as, “a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory, and related circuitry.”

on the brain logo.With the recent rise in opioid abuse and overdose, which has quickly become a national health epidemic, scientists are focused increasingly on understanding the science behind addiction and its effect on the brain, in hopes of finding new ways to treat and ultimately prevent the disease from occurring.

Kerry J. Ressler, MD ’97, PhD ’97, chief scientific officer at McLean Hospital and professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, is pursuing groundbreaking research aimed at unraveling the intersections between childhood traumatization and substance use disorders, and their joint associations with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) outcomes. He and his team have interviewed nearly 10,000 patients living in impoverished communities about how trauma and stress affect their lives.

Within the last several decades, scientists have made significant progress in understanding the changes in brain function that occur with addiction. I’m hopeful this progress will soon translate into effective therapeutic and preventive strategies that ensure addiction is no longer a global epidemic.

Kerry J. Ressler