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Ode to Philip Seymour Hoffman: Can we cure addiction?

February 4, 2014


When we hear about a man like Philip Seymour Hoffman, who seemed to have everything, dying in the prime of his life of heroin addiction, it can seem very shocking. It’s times like this, I have to remind myself that addiction as a disease is a very good model. A physiological cascade is set up for dopaminergic/glutamatergic reward based on an action or chemical.1 Whatever it might be: gambling, overeating, compulsive shopping, heroin use. The engager experiences the desired high. But the experience only lasts so long before the neurochemicals dissipate, the receptors return to their empty state and the craving to be filled returns.

If you break this into a 2-step process (Action/ Neurochemical release), you can imagine that blocking the neurochemical release might eventually lead to extinction of the action. Much like Dr. Skinner’s pigeons lost interest in incessant pecking if not rewarded, so would humans no longer do the action that did not result in the elusive “high” they were seeking.

Such is the idea behind addiction drugs like methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone.  But adherence and “staying clean” in these treatment programs is notoriously difficult, with approximately half of patients relapsing within a year.2,3 Obvious social factors come into play, and there is so much more to addiction than just a two-step process. It is a battle for the heart and soul as much as it is the mind, it seems. Rest in Peace, the talented Mr. Hoffman. 




1. Li M, Lui WJ, Lu B, et al. Acta Pharmacol Sin. 2013 Aug;34(8):1013-24.


2. Senbanjo RWolff KMarshall EJStrang J.. Drug Alcohol Rev. 2009 Nov;28(6):608-15.


3. Krupitsky ENunes EVLing W, Addiction. 2013 Sep;108(9):1628-37.


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One Comment
  1. Nancy Rahman permalink

    Sad.. thanks for the write up. Here’s mine:

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