Triggers and Cravings (Part 2): The Science of Addiction

Triggers and Cravings (Part 2): The Science of Addiction


– Hello. You are about to watch a video
produced by the Substance Abuse and Mental
Health Services Administration. Now, we’ll talk about
the science of addiction. Researchers have found
that using drugs or alcohol too much
changes the brain. It’s as if a switch in the brain
is turned on, at some point. This point is different
for every person, but, when this switch
turns on, the person becomes dependent
on the substance. The development of addiction involves two different areas
of the brain– the prefrontal cortex,
and the limbic system. The prefrontal cortex is the rational part of
the brain, the decision maker. The prefrontal cortex
directs behavior and evaluates the pluses
and minuses of situations. The limbic system supports
emotion and motivation. It’s separate from
the conscious brain. Addiction occurs in
this part of the brain, where all the basic life drives
are located. This can be considered
the “addicted brain.” You can think of addiction
as a struggle between the rational brain
[the prefrontal cortex] and the addicted brain
[the limbic system]. It’s natural for the brain
to want more of something that gives it pleasure; however, when some people
use substances, they activate a craving process
that is different from desire. For many people,
the rational part of the brain keeps substance use in check,
but for others, the effect of drugs or alcohol on the limbic system–
the addicted brain– begins to override reason
and clear thinking. Let’s look at how
craving response develops. In the early 1900s,
Ivan Pavlov conducted experiments
in conditioned response. He studied his dog’s
salivation when food was near. The dog’s brain recognized food
and the dog began salivating. As an experiment,
Dr. Pavlov began ringing a bell at the same time
the food was presented. The dog heard the bell,
saw the food, and salivated. When Dr. Pavlov began ringing
the bell with no food present, the sound of the bell
made the dog salivate. The dog’s brain
was “conditioned.” When a person uses drugs
frequently and gets a positive feeling,
the brain becomes conditioned, just like the dog’s brain. The human’s conditioned brain
gets triggered, or causes salivation,
when it is reminded of the drug.

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