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PostPosted: Tue Jul 20, 2010 7:58 pm 
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Check out this article from Psychology Today - much needed new thinking on the topic of addiction. Some quotes to get you started:

The news, however, is that brain, mind, and behavior specialists are re-thinking the whole notion of addiction. With help from neuroscience, molecular biology, pharmacology, psychology, and genetics, they're challenging their own hard-core assumptions and popular "certainties" and finding surprisingly common characteristics among addictions.

They're using new imaging techniques to see how addiction looks and feels and where cravings "live" in the brain and mind. They're concluding that things are far from hopeless and they are rapidly replacing conjecture with facts.

For example, scientists have learned that every animal, from the ancient hagfish to reptiles, rodents, and humans, share the same basic pleasure and "reward" circuits in the brain, circuits that all turn on when in contact with addictive substances or during pleasurable acts such as eating or orgasm. One conclusion from this evidence is that addictive behaviors are normal, a natural part of our "wiring." If they weren't, or if they were rare, nature would not have let the capacity to be addicted evolve, survive, and stick around in every living creature.

Here's a very interesting take on the nature of withdrawal and relapse:

•Addictions develop their own motivations. For addicts, their tolerance and dependence in and of themselves become reinforcing and rewarding, independent of their actual use of the drug or the "high" they may get. "One way of understanding this," says Cataldo, "is to analyze what is happening behaviorally in withdrawal. Given that withdrawal is so punishing, why do addicts let themselves go through it more than once? One answer is that the withdrawal, when combined with relapse and returning to the use of the substance, itself may be 'rewarding.'"

What do you guys think about that? I know that many (probably most) of us have repeatedly gone through days or even weeks of cold-turkey withdrawal, only to use again just when we are actually starting to feel better. It's very interesting to me to think of that cycle itself being a reward cycle - becoming ingrained in our brain circuitry to the point that the process of withdrawing & relapsing itself becomes something just as addictive as our drug of choice.

Here are some thoughts from a brain researcher on the nature of cravings and memory, and why addicts can crave so strongly even after long periods of absinence:

London says she is convinced that addiction takes place in stages and requires not only initiation to a substance or to an activity that brings great pleasure, physically and/or psychologically, but also creation of nondrug "incentives" to keep using the drug and craving it. The incentives include the creation of memories—via the creation of neural pathways—of the pleasure and good mood and the excitement of getting the drug, preparing it, or sharing it with others.

"What we're talking about is like conditioning," says London. "Over time, events that happen concurrently with the euphoria begin to contribute to the drug experience and are involved in a sensitization process. They too probably produce a biochemical effect in the brain and become very important in the addiction process."

If that happens, it goes a long way to explaining why relapse rates are so high, even for addicts who are "detoxified" and off drugs for long periods. Even when people clean up their act and stay clean for some time, they are still very vulnerable and this may have something to do not only with receptor sites and neurotransmitters, but also with biochemical processes that produce long-term, stored memories of the drug experience. Says London: "In my view, biochemical and psychological memories act in the same way. What we're talking about is learning at the molecular level—and the reason that addicts, long after they are free of a drug, can experience intense craving when presented with stimuli—even photographs or sounds—that remind them of the drug experience."

And a final thought on how we, as addicts, have more in common with the normals than "they" would probably like to admit:

In the new view of addiction, says Childers, people vary in their ability to manage problems and pleasures, "but we must recognize that we all share the same circuits of pleasure, rewards, and pain. Anyone who takes cocaine will enjoy it; anyone who has sex will enjoy it. There is nothing abnormal about getting high on cocaine. Everyone will. There is a natural basis of addiction and we need to get away from the concept that only bad or weak or diseased people have problems with addiction. Telling someone to 'just say no' is like telling someone to just say no to eating and drinking and sex. We must begin to see how very human and very hard this is. But it is far from hopeless."

Here's the link to the full article. It's longish, but worth reading: ... e-new-view

You can't stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.

-Jack Kornfield

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PostPosted: Tue Jul 20, 2010 10:02 pm 
Wow...I have relapsed more times than I can count and this is the first time I've ever seen an explaination for it other than that I'm an idiot. This is a very interesting article, thanks for posting it.
Oddly, I was just on a weight loss forum where someone posted a research article showing that overweight people's brains react differently to food than normal weight people, and how people who lose weight are extremely prone to gaining it back. The paralells with this article are stunning, and I know that a lot of us addicts have weight issues as well. It all has to do with how certain stimuli (food, drugs) trigger various brain areas like emotion that are not triggered in "normal" people. If anyone is interested I can post the link to the article.

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