Changing Cues that Encourage Addiction
The brain controls not only the body, but also motivation and learning. New insight into neurodegenerative disorders such as addiction is providing hope for better understanding of brain processes during substance abuse. Previous research has shown that drug abuse and addiction physically alter the connections between neurons (synapses) that are important for the creation and storage of memories. Better understanding of memory processing in the brain could lead to better treatments.
One of the main causes for relapse is reaction to memory cues such as site, smell and taste. In a new study, researchers at the Ernest Gallo Clinic and Research Center at UC San Francisco have been able to identify a brain pathway linked to memories that cause alcohol cravings in rats.
Lead author Segev Barak, PhD, said:
“We learned that when rats were exposed to the smell or taste of alcohol, there was a small window of opportunity to target the area of the brain that reconsolidates the memory of the craving for alcohol and to weaken or even erase the memory, and thus the craving.”
Understanding how addictions trigger memories opens possibilities for changing or desensitizing the cues that are related to cravings. With help from a trained therapist, behavior cues can be recognized, desensitized and perhaps eliminated.
Recovery may be easier after lifestyle changes and removing cues from an addict’s environment, which requires some effort from the addict. Changing the drive home to avoid the local bar or carpooling can prevent stopping at the liquor store, along with getting rid of all the paraphernalia at home is a good beginning. These examples help by preventing cues that cause cravings with new cues when seeing specific places, at certain times, and by making the home a place of mindful recovery.
Successful recovery often requires the incorporation of multiple methods of therapy and practice to create a holistic treatment plan that considers the highly complex nature of addiction. Providing more options available to individuals improves the odds of finding the right individualized treatment plan for the best chance of recovery from addiction.