Hardwiring The Brain for Addiction

Science has proven that the brain physically changes when people become addicted to drugs or alcohol. Though there are chemicals that cause addiction, behavior can alter it too.

The incentive-sensitization theory

The theory is known as incentive-sensitization, according to Psych Central. The theory, which was created in 1993 and reinforced in 2000, states that drugs can change how the brain values incentives. Drugs find a way to teach the brain that the substance is the only existing reward, and that it needs that reward to survive. Yet aside from this theory, a new study published in July 2014 in the journal of Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews revealed that behavior plays a role in the theory as well. Just like the physical drug, the experience behind substance use can rewire the brain to desire that experience more and more.

Addiction rewards vs. natural rewards

Once people continually feed that desire, they become hypersensitive to the reward. Alongside the hypersensitivity for substances, people battling addiction become gradually less sensitive to natural rewards. Some natural human rewards are love, safety and belonging. Those battling addiction only want their addiction and nothing else will be sufficient. The study also found that addiction has to do with the desire for drugs or alcohol, but that does not mean people necessarily like them. Regardless of not liking the substance, people still want it.

Lead researcher Kristin Thomsen Romer stated that the incentive-sensitization model can be used to help treat addiction. The researchers at the University of Aarhus in Denmark believe that since these behaviors mold the topography of the brain, a method needs to be discovered that figures out how to remold the brain once again for recovery. Therapeutic and prescription medicine often just mask the behavior, not alter it. The researchers suggested using cognitive-behavioral therapy as a way of addressing these addictive behaviors.

Discovering a solution

Yet Psych Central contested these beliefs. CBT requires using the conscious brain and its desires, however, subconscious desires play a large role in addiction. The study recommended addiction treatment centers use mindfulness-based interventions, which can help target the unconscious desires. Psych Central noted that rehabilitation centers should bring the unconscious to the conscious, and then use CBT to alter the conscious thoughts. So, if the behavior is sketched into the brain, the only solution for recovery may be finding the right kind of eraser.

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