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Addiction: Changing Reward-Motivated Behavior

addictionAll of us make hundreds, if not thousands of decisions every day of the week. Most decisions are, for the most part, inconsequential. Such as which TV show you decide to watch tonight, or which route you will take on your daily jog. But there are some decisions that we make that can have grave outcomes, especially if you are in recovery for addiction.

Addiction is a mental health disorder that is typified by making decisions that result in actions that are damaging to one’s health. Even when one is aware that their decisions are in fact harmful, the reward or the expectation of some kind of reward (i.e. euphoria) is often enough to counter an alternative choice. Try as one might, breaking the cycle of addiction is extremely difficult and often times requires the assistance of detox and substance use disorder treatment centers. With the right tools and coping skills in place, one can avoid relapse down the road.

Reward-Motivated Behavior

In everyone’s brain there are several organic chemicals that act as neurotransmitters, such as norepinephrine and dopamine. When it comes to the latter, dopamine plays a major role in reward-motivated behavior. And, it turns out that dopamine, and manipulating the level of dopamine in the brain could actually alter the decisions people make, Salk Institute reports. The findings from a study published in the journal Neuron, could have serious implications in treating people who have difficulty putting a stop to repetitive actions, like addicts and alcoholics.

The researchers say that by measuring the level of dopamine right before a decision, gives them [researcher] the ability to predict the outcome with accuracy, according to the report. In rodent models, the research team was able to alter the animals’ dopamine levels in the brain, using a process called optogenetics. The technique activates or inhibits neurons with light, thus increasing or decreasing dopamine levels, giving researchers the ability to dictate the choices the rodents made. Xin Jin, an assistant professor in Salk’s Molecular Neurobiology Laboratory and the paper’s senior author, said:

“We think that if we could restore the appropriate dopamine dynamics—in Parkinson’s disease, OCD and drug addiction—people might have better control of their behavior. This is an important step in understanding how to accomplish that.”

Breaking the Cycle of Addiction

Addiction is a mental health disorder; one that is progressive in nature. Every bad habit starts with a decision to do something. Such options, overtime move away from the realm of a choice and into the realm of need. Mind altering substances in effect rewire how you process and decide to do things, which is why one can make decisions that you know could be fatal—without having ideations of suicide.

Treating addiction is a process involving both time and hard work in order regain one’s ability to make decisions in one’s best interest. Without making a serious commitment to alter the course of one’s life, utilizing the support of a recovery program, the ends are typically the same. At Synergy Group Services our holistic treatment program is designed to draw from many evidence based therapeutic processes giving each individual access to the modalities that will be most effective for them. Blending evidence-based practices addresses the entire person, including their mind, body, and spirit.

Cocaine Destroys Brain Cells

cocaineWhile we don’t hear much these days about cocaine because opioid abuse has taken the spotlight for over a decade, many people still use and abuse the drug. In the 1980s cocaine was all the rage, and for a time Florida was ground zero for all the cocaine that came into this country from Colombian cartels. Today, the majority of the cocaine used in the United States is brought into the country by the Mexican cartels, and while people may use less cocaine now than in decades past – the drug remains as one of the most popular drugs among young adults.

The drug elicits short-term euphoric feelings, increased energy and talkativeness. People high on the drug have heightened heart rates and blood pressure. The drug loses its effect relatively quickly, which causes users to do more and more to keep the desired feeling. Just because the euphoria diminishes does not mean the drug is out of one’s system, continued use can lead to emergencies.

In recent years there have been a number of studies conducted regarding the effects of the drug on the brain, some of which focused on finding new drugs for treating cocaine addiction. A new study has found that heavy cocaine use can have a serious impact on the brain, actually causing brain cells to destroy themselves – through a process called autophagy, Medical News Today reports. The research will be published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Brain cells have built-in mechanism for self-destruction, which are necessary if cells have problems and stop working properly, according to the article. When cells digest and recycle waste matter, it is known as autophagy; heavy use of cocaine can cause autophagy to kick into overdrive. On top of disposing of cell waste, the substance can cause autophagy to eat essential cell components.

“Autophagy is the housekeeper that takes out the trash – it’s usually a good thing,” says Dr. Prasun Guha, a postdoctoral student at Johns Hopkins University. But cocaine makes the housekeeper throw away really important things, like mitochondria, which produce energy for the cell.”

The researchers at Johns Hopkins hope that further research will result in the development of treatments that protect not only adults, but babies as well. If you are struggling with addiction, please contact Synergy Group Services.

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