Neuroscience of Addiction
Drug addiction is a chronic disorder in which the addict experiences an uncontrollable compulsion to take drugs. Simultaneously the repertoire of behaviors not related to drug seeking and taking decline dramatically in addicts who are actively using. However, new research in the field of neuroscience is helping us to understand how addiction changes the brain and is giving us hope for new therapies to improve addiction treatment outcomes.
Because of the ways that drugs, alcohol and the behavior of repeatedly taking drugs and alcohol affects our brains, the struggle of chemical dependency and addiction is activated in the brain. Activities, experiences and behaviors that activatee the dopamine neurons in the brain are wide-ranged. Exercising, taking drugs, eating, having sex, and even shopping can cause pleasure receptors to fire in the brain. However, some chemicals, routes of administration and frequency of use make certain substances more addictive than others.
Addiction actually alters the function and structure of the pleasure circuit of the brain. Nevertheless, these learned behaviors that change the brain toward addiction can be altered, with experience, away from addiction. Therefore, even if our brains are programmed for addictive behavior, we can re-wire the brain and help new, healthier neural pathways to form.
Cognitive control is crucial for the addict in recovery. Our brains are flexible, and new behaviors and choices are the way out of addiction. You see, when we act in different ways, we fire our brains in different patterns. This breaks up the addictive response and reinforces non-addict behaviors. A person literally acts themselves into a healthier brain.
The propensity to discount delayed rewards in drug users has the potential to become a clinically relevant behavioral marker, alerting clinicians that these clients may exhibit lower treatment readiness and are more likely to drop out of treatment prematurely. Targeting delay discounting or increasing treatment readiness in drug users with a low tolerance for delay-of-gratification may help to improve treatment retention among these individuals. One way to do this effectively is by using the clinical interventions described in the Stages of Change model.