Penn/VA center for studies of addiction

University of Pennsylvania, Treatment Research Center, 3900 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6178, USA.
Neuropharmacology (Impact Factor: 5.11). 07/2008; 56 Suppl 1:44-7. DOI: 10.1016/j.neuropharm.2008.06.030
Source: PubMed


The Penn/VA Center was founded in 1971 because of great concern over the number of Vietnam veterans returning home addicted to heroin. At that time little was known about the science of addiction, so our program from the very beginning was designed to gather data about the nature of addiction and measure the effects of available treatments. In other words, the goals were always a combination of treatment and research. This combination has continued to the present day. A human laboratory for the study of addiction phenomena such as conditioned responses was also founded in 1971. The key clinician investigators in this group have remained in the Center since the 1970s with most of the research staff continuing to work together. Important new investigators have been added over the years. Treatment was empirically based with randomized, controlled clinical trials as the gold standard for determining evidence-based treatment. The patients coming to treatment do not distinguish between abuse of alcohol and other drugs, so the treatment and research programs have always focused on all drugs including ethyl alcohol and the combination of ethyl alcohol with other drugs such as cocaine and opioids. Most of the patients coming for treatment also suffered from additional psychiatric disorders such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. Thus, the addiction treatment program in 1980 absorbed the rest of the VA Psychiatry Service into the Substance Abuse Program forming a new Behavioral Health Service with responsibility for over 9000 patients. The integration of substance abuse treatment with overall mental health care was the most efficient way to handle patients with complicated combinations of disorders. While this continues to be the best way to treat patients, it has proven difficult in practice. The main reason for this difficulty is that most mental health therapists whether they are psychiatrists, psychologists or social workers feel very inadequate to handle substance abuse problems. Unless they have had specialized training in addictive disorders, therapists are likely to be uncomfortable if substance abuse is one of the diagnoses while they may be quite comfortable treating other complex disorders such as schizophrenia. This lack of education of clinicians remains a major problem for our field. Some of the findings that came out of both the Penn/VA laboratory and clinical studies are now widely accepted and form the basis of standard clinical practice. These concepts and evidence will be briefly reviewed below.

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    • "Conditioned withdrawal Through Pavlovian conditioning, interoceptive (e.g., subjective effects ) and exteroceptive (e.g., sights, sounds, smells or situations) cues become associated with withdrawal symptoms and act cumulatively to motivate drug seeking. Indeed, conditioned withdrawal is such a strong force in drug addiction, it was one of the earliest factors noted by the medical community (Wikler, 1973) and continues to be considered a critical feature in addiction by today's leading psychiatrists (O'Brien et al., 2009). "
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    ABSTRACT: Environmental and interoceptive cues are theorized to serve as 'signals' that motivate drug seeking, effects that may be augmented in the withdrawn state. Phasic dopamine release events are observed in the nucleus accumbens in response to such motivational salient stimuli and are thought to be necessary for drug-associated cues to trigger craving. We recently demonstrated how dopamine neurons encode stimuli conditioned to a negative event, as might occur during conditioned withdrawal, and stimuli predicting the avoidance of negative events, as might occur as an addict seeks out drugs to prevent withdrawal. In this review we first discuss how the subsecond dopamine release events might process conditioned withdrawal and drug seeking driven by negative reinforcement processes within the context of our dopamine data obtained during conditioned avoidance procedures. We next describe how the endocannabinoid system modulates phasic dopamine release events and how it might be harnessed to treat negative affective states in addiction. Specifically, we have demonstrated that endocannabinoids in the ventral tegmentum sculpt cue-induced accumbal surges in dopamine release and, therefore, may also be mobilized during drug withdrawal.
    Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry 08/2013; 52. DOI:10.1016/j.pnpbp.2013.07.019 · 3.69 Impact Factor
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    • "Commonly abused substances include alcohol, cannabis, cocaine, and stimulants. Not all clinicians are familiar with the signs and symptoms of substance abuse and dependence and could easily mistake them as evidence of a mood disorder [15] Depression Research and Treatment because of their effect on mood and behavior. Substance intoxication or withdrawal symptoms may present as symptoms of mania or depression, respectively, thereby misleading clinicians [16]. "
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    ABSTRACT: Substance abuse can produce symptoms similar to other psychiatric disorders, thus confusing the diagnostic picture. This paper attempts to elucidate how misdiagnosis in bipolar disorder might be explained by the presence of substance abuse comorbidities. The overlap of symptoms, limited information about symptom onset, and inexperienced clinicians can result in the misinterpretation of symptoms of substance abuse disorders for bipolar disorder. The present study found that the presence of a substance abuse comorbidity, the polarity of last episode (depressed, manic, mixed, not otherwise specified), and the total number of comorbidities affected the reliability of a bipolar disorder diagnosis.
    Depression research and treatment 01/2012; 2012:435486. DOI:10.1155/2012/435486