This year’s Göran Gustafsson Lecturer: “It’s an honour”

Göran Gustafsson Symposium 2024: Facing the challenges of addiction. University Main Building, 9 April.

On 9 April, it’s time for this year’s Göran Gustafsson Symposium, with the theme ‘Facing the challenges of addiction’. The keynote speaker is Andrew Holmes, award-winning researcher and director of the Laboratory of Behavioral and Genomic Neuroscience at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Every year, Uppsala University, together with the Göran Gustafsson Foundation for Research at Uppsala University and KTH, invites an internationally renowned medical researcher to give a lecture. This year’s keynote speaker is Andrew Holmes, who is looking forward to visiting Uppsala University.

Portrait photo of Andrew Holmes.

This year’s Göran Gustafsson Lecturer is Andrew Holmes, Director of the Laboratory of Behavioral and Genomic Neuroscience at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

“As the oldest Nordic University with a rich history and home to such scientific giants as Anders Celsius and Carl Linnaeus, it will be a genuine honour to visit Uppsala and participate in this year’s Göran Gustafsson symposium,” says Andrew Holmes.

“I very much look forward to hearing from my co-presenters about the terrific work that is being done at the University and elsewhere in Sweden to understand and help combat the growing problem of addiction. And, if the weather permits, perhaps I will have a chance to visit the famous Botanical Garden”.

Trauma linked to addiction

Andrew Holmes is the director of the Laboratory of Behavioral and Genomic Neuroscience at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, which is part of the National Institute of Health. His research primarily focuses on how evolution has equipped us with biological systems within the brain to allow us to detect potential threats in our world, and remember these experiences so that we can avoid danger in the future.

“My research uses laboratory models in seeking to explain the biological component of psychiatric disorders that are linked to abnormal reactions to threats, including anxiety and addictions.”

Andrew Holmes has received several awards for his research, including the NIAAA Scientific Achievement Award for “scientists who have made an outstanding contribution to scientific research” in 2022. His lecture is titled ‘Anxiety, trauma, and the roads to addiction’, which will emphasise how traumatic events lay down long-lasting memories that trigger fear, anxiety and maladaptive coping mechanisms, especially the over-use of alcohol and other drugs. Additionally, Andrew Holmes promises an overview of research methods that might seem a bit ‘science fiction’.

“In addition to focusing on how trauma leads to addiction, I will also talk about some new and sometimes complex methods for studying the brain, which may seem quite technical and even ‘sci-fi,’ but which hold great promise for understanding our behaviour and which, one day in the future, could be harnessed for therapeutic gain.”

Based on your experience, how common is it for trauma to lead to addiction?

“It is very common for people suffering from emotional disorders related to anxiety or trauma to also have difficulties controlling drug and alcohol use. This has led to the ‘self-medication’ hypothesis, that proposes that drug and alcohol use becomes a tool people use to reduce the symptoms of psychological stress. However, overuse of drug and alcohol itself causes some of the very things that self-medication is meant to deal with, namely anxiety and traumatic events. This can lead to a vicious cycle of ever-increasing addiction, anxiety and trauma,” explains Andrew Holmes.

Challenges and hope for the future

The Göran Gustafsson Symposium 2024 is organised in collaboration with U-FOLD – Forum for Research on Drug and Substance Abuse, which aims to bring researchers and professionals together to collaborate on developing society’s measures against abuse, its consequences, and issues. There are many challenges in this field that need to be overcome, but Andrew Holmes believes that a biological challenge is one of the most crucial.

“Addictions are increasingly considered to be disorders of the brain, in-as-much as there are clearly observable alterations in the brain of people dealing with addiction and in animals in which addiction-like states are induced in the laboratory. However, we still have so much to understand about how addictions manifest in the brain and, crucially, how we can use this new understanding to devise new and improved therapeutic support for the many people suffering from addictions.”

The Göran Gustafsson Symposium 2024 starts at 13.00 Tuesday 9 April at the University Main Building, Lecture Hall X. For more information and the full programme, see below.

Robin Widing

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