By looking at how the human brain responds to “fullness” messages sent to the brain by an implanted device that stimulates the stomach, the scientists have identified brain circuits that motivate the desire to overeat in the obese — the same circuits that cause addicted individuals to crave drugs. The scientists have also verified that these circuits play a critical role in eating behaviors linked to soothing negative emotions.
This could be an important finding for people with eating disorders. I have to admit that it makes me a little uneasy. I fear that we may find that these brain differences for various problems are far more common than once thought. I fear first, that the brain science of addiction will be rendered far less persuasive, and second, that the these brain differences will come to be understood as neurobiological adaptations caused by the person’s behavior.
Bill White has expressed some anxiety about the field’s embrace of genetic causes and NIDA’s brain disease push. My impression is not that he has any serious doubts, rather that he’s seen too many previous theories crumble as new science emerges. He’s also voiced concern about the possibility of genetic screening – that it could lead to discrimination and that screening could be negative for people who’ve identified themselves as addicted. What would it mean for someone that is sober 20 years to receive a negative genetic screen?