Forever fascinated by the neurobiology of various mental health presentations, addiction included, two medical news items caught my attention this week.  If you’ve ever heard me speak on addiction, in somewhat simplistic terms, it is very much about the reward centre of the brain and how strongly all recreational drugs hit on this.  Think rats tapping levers with their feet to continually self-administer cocaine…to the exclusion of all else….kind of magnitude of reward hits.  You may have also heard me quote or misquote (!) someone famous who once said something to the effect of….and I am totally paraphrasing poorly here: if we can’t seek pleasure legitimately, we will seek it illegitimately. 

So this story from ABC news about a Newcastle addiction group support program showing some early signs of greater retention and engagement and therefore potential success with addicts…because they incorporate prizes…well that makes so much sense!

The article is important to read in its entirety as it creates the context – especially for many people suffering from addiction who tell tragic stories of lives where the only rewards/prizes and even gifts they’ve ever known, being drug-related – even from a young age.  So to normalise reward to some extent, and give individuals an experience of constructive legitimate versions of this, is actually desperately needed and ground-breaking. 

How can we incorporate some element of this in our interactions with these patients?

The second ABC news item touts ‘a new generation drug that restores balance to the brain’ but is actually just a teaser about…wait for it…cue stage right…a not so old favourite…N-acetyl cysteine!  Although this is effectively a recruitment drive for methamphetamine addicted individuals into a new 12 week trial of NAC, run by the National Drug Research Institute, taking place in Melbourne, Geelong and Wollongong, it gives NAC a great wrap and rationale for being a good adjunct in addiction, of course. Just a reminder folks that naturopaths belong on that multi-modality health care team for people struggling with addiction, and we do have some potent therapies to contribute. 

A couple of years back I was asked to deliver an educational session to a group of hospital based mental health specialists on the merits of NAC.  My favourite question/comment at the end of my detailed presentation from a very experienced psychiatrist was, “Well if N-acetyl cysteine is so good for mental health…why haven’t I heard about it before now?!”

I hope they follow the ABC news 🙂

Want to Get Up Close to N-acetyl Cysteine in Mental Health? Previous ideas regarding the pathophysiology of mental illness have been profoundly challenged in recent times, particularly in light of the limited success of the pharmaceuticals that ‘should have worked better’ had our hypotheses been correct. Novel drivers such as oxidative stress, inflammation and mitochondrial dysfunction are on everyone’s lips and N-acetyl cysteine is in prime position in this new landscape, to be a novel and effective therapy for mental illness. This presentation brings you up to date with the current NAC research in a large number of mental health conditions & translates this into the clinical context.

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