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NAC: Addictions, compulsions and impulsive behaviour

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Addiction is a condition that results in a loss of control over a behaviour, activity or ingestion of a substance. Despite adverse consequences, the pleasure response associated with addiction compels an individual to continue their involvement. Addiction changes both brain structure and function. 

Development of addictive behaviour include factors such as primary (unconditioned) reward, secondary (conditioned) reward, sensitisation processes, reinforcement reward learning, withdrawal, reinstatement and relapse after periods of abstinence.

Traditionally, addiction research has focused on mechanisms involving dopamine and endogenous opioids. More recently, it has become increasingly evident that glutamate is also involved in addiction, and glutamatergic mechanisms play a central role in the processes underlying the development and maintenance of addiction. These processes include reinforcement, sensitisation, habit learning and reinforcement learning, context conditioning, craving and relapse. It appears that while many actions of glutamate derive their importance from a stimulatory interaction with the dopaminergic system, there are some glutamatergic mechanisms that contribute to addiction independent of dopaminergic systems. A better understanding of the underlying mechanisms might open new avenues to the treatment of addiction, in particular regarding relapse prevention.

In recognition of these factors, the use of NAC as a glutamatergic agent for the treatment of addiction is beginning to emerge in the field of psychiatric research. In this infographic we take a closer look at NAC and the research supporting its efficacy in the treatment of addictions.


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  7. Horvath T, Misra K, Epner AK, et al. Addictions. CenterSite 2015. Viewed 19 May 2015, http://www.centersite.net/poc/view_doc.php?type=doc&id=48329&cn=1408
  8. Murray JE, Lacoste J, Belin D, N-Acetylcysteine as a treatment for addiction. In: D Belin (Ed.) Addictions – from pathophysiology to treatment. Intech (pp. 355-380), 2012. [eBook]
  9. Philibin SD, Hernandez A, Self D, et al. Striatal signal transduction and drug addiction. Front Neuroanat 2011;5(60):1-15. [Full text]

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Melissa Lee
Melissa is a designer turned nutritionist, who has combined the two modalities to create purposeful designs for various health publications and websites. Having initially studied Multimedia Systems Design, she then went on to complete a BHSc in Nutritional Medicine which led to her involvement in the integrative medicine industry and eventually to FX Medicine.