Approximately 10 million people in Germany are addicted to either alcohol, tobacco, prescription drugs or illegal drugs. A small percentage manage to overcome their addiction without any outside help. How they manage to do so is being explored by the new transregional Collaborative Research Center (SFB/TRR) ‘Losing and Regaining Control in Addiction – Development, Mechanisms and Interventions’, which is being led by Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin. The center’s findings will promote the development of personalized treatments. Funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG), this collaborative research project will receive a total of approximately €12 million over four years.
Painkillers, psychoactive drugs, alcohol and nicotine all have one thing in common: their high addiction potential is responsible for millions of people developing dependence – in Germany and worldwide. Addictive substances stimulate the reward system of the brain and produce a sense of wellbeing or even euphoria. The absence of this stimulation and its pleasant effects can result in a ‘reward deficit’ – and an often-uncontrollable urge to consume the addictive substance. The pressure to yield to such urges becomes increasingly more pronounced, leaving little room for other interests; often with serious psychological, social and physical consequences. Every year, at least 140,000 people in Germany die due to their addiction to alcohol, tobacco or illegal drugs.
“Some addicts do manage to regain control over their levels of consumption without any professional assistance,” says the official spokesperson of the newly approved SFB/TRR, Prof. Dr. Andreas Heinz, Director of the Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy and Member of the ECN. “We want to learn from these people: what mechanisms do they develop in order to break the cycle of addiction? We hope to be able to use this knowledge to develop targeted interventions for other persons with addiction.”
Alongside researchers from Heidelberg University and TU Dresden, Prof. Heinz and his team will be observing the day-to-day behavior of addicts through the use of apps and other mobile health technologies in real life. In addition, the researchers will assess cognitive performance and mood states and apply imaging technologies. These will be used to gain insight into addiction-related changes in both cognitive control and decision-making, and to better understand the effects of addiction-related urges on behavior. “We hope to be able to identify the affected individuals’ personal strengths and weaknesses. We will then use the information about vulnerability and resilience factors to develop personalized behavioral training programs, which will make quitting easier,” explains Prof. Heinz. “Our long-term plans involve the development of an app capable of warning the user as soon as they lose control of their drug consumption – including that of alcohol and nicotine. This mobile app will also provide targeted support.”
DFG Collaborative Research Centers Collaborative Research Centers (SFBs) are institutions which facilitate long-term research collaborations that are both innovative and ambitious. In contrast to traditional SFBs, transregional SFBs (SFB/TRR) are based at several locations; two or three universities must jointly apply to the DFG for funding and jointly coordinate the research. Projects are initially funded for a period of four years. Following successful review by the DFG, projects may be extended to cover two additional four-year funding periods.
Prof. Dr. Andreas Heinz
Director of the Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy
Campus Charité Mitte Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin