How a Habit Becomes an Addiction

Editors_choiceResearch suggests that only 20–30% of drug users actually descend into addiction — defined as the persistent seeking and taking of drugs even in the face of dire personal consequences. Why are some people who use drugs able to do so without turning into addicts, while others continue to abuse, even when the repercussions range from jail time to serious health problems?

In a comprehensive review in the European Journal of Neuroscience, Barry Everitt outlines the neural correlates and learning-based processes associated with the transition from drug use, to abuse, to addiction.

Drug seeking begins as a goal-directed behavior, with an action (finding and taking drugs) leading to a particular outcome (the drug high). This type of associative learning is mediated by the dorsomedial region of the striatum, the area of the brain that is associated with reward processing, which functions primarily through the neurotransmitter dopamine.

In this kind of learning, devaluing the outcome (by decreasing the potency of the drug, for example) tends to decrease the pursuit of the action. When the high is not what it used to be, the motivation to continue seeking it out decreases.

However, in long-term abusers, this devalued outcome does not reduce the action — indeed, researchers have found that in cases of chronic drug use, a parallel associative learning process eventually comes to the fore. This process is one of stimulus–response; the conditioned stimuli in this case are the various environmental cues — the sight of the powdery white stuff, the smell of burning aluminum foil — that users associate with getting high and that compel them to seek out drugs.

As Everitt puts it, the “must have” of the goal-directed behavior eventually develops into a habitual “must do” response. This second kind of learning is mediated in the brain by a separate section of the striatum — the dorsolateral region, which is connected to areas of the cortex that control sensorimotor function. Everitt outlines the neural mechanisms underlying this shift in learning behaviors, which seems to occur due to changes in two different dopamine signaling pathways that involve the striatum.

Although impulsivity is often seen as an effect of stimulant drug use, it may also be a causal factor in the loss of control that occurs when a drug abuser descends into addiction. The author presents evidence suggesting there is an intrinsic element that can make certain people more vulnerable to impulsivity and, consequently, drug addiction — potentially explaining why not all habitual users go on to become addicted.

With these discoveries about the neural and psychological activity of addiction in mind, Everitt also reviews some potential treatment options. These include drugs that block specific dopamine receptors to disrupt the reward-processing circuits in the brain and those that induce plasticity in the brain regions associated with habitual drug-seeking behavior.

Everitt also discusses existing drugs that could be repurposed to treat drug addiction — such as SSRIs, common antidepressant medications that raise serotonin levels in the brain, or atomoxetine, a pharmaceutical treatment for ADHD that tends to reduce impulsivity.

One of the more intriguing prospects is a class of drugs that targets memory reconsolidation, designed specifically for preventing relapse. If memories of previous drug experiences can be disconnected from the environmental cues that normally induce craving, the theory goes, those stimuli will cease to bring about drug-seeking behavior.

As this review shows, a more complete understanding of the neural and learning processes associated with the transition from drug use to addiction can help researchers better identify and treat those most at risk for descending into compulsive drug abuse.

Reference

Everitt, B. J. (2014). Neural and psychological mechanisms underlying compulsive drug seeking habit and drub memories: Indications for novel treatments of addiction. European Journal of Neuroscience, 40, 2163–2168.

Comments

I find this interesting i do hope and pray continuing research leads to some answers for addictions. Also, for help for those who suffer from severe anxiety and depression. Its an area that is often misunderstood…

Viewing substance abuse/addiction as a stand alone disorder is a dangerous approach to this multi-faceted disorder.Drug use is always a co occurring disorder with roots in early childhood trauma and family dysfunction. The continuum of Use, abuse, dependance, and addiction are dependent upon the severity of of childhood trauma and family dysfunction

(its a read, i dident intend on a page and a half but if not brought to light my studies are all for not.. aswell yes my physical application of literacy sucks, just bear with it as much as you can.. i only officially finished 4th grade.)
So you went not a full 360, but could have easily done so “may have just been your articulation etc.. the extent to the veriable contexts in modern english is pretty closed.. i.e humans take shit to seriously in the pursuit of a singular answer/blame instead of understanding the natural order as much as possible with a non bias approach to all that is and can be tangible as influential factors.”
That being said, your introduction is on point with the implications of the scientific method “avoiding the whole singular answer thing”.
I earnestly do understand your statement does infact point out a common set of factors in this subject fore i know it first hand, as well it is obviously going to be a common developmental factor in addicts due to the process of life skill development in respects to survival.
But out of passion for the general field of study i must point out the decline into seemingly bias nature, because addiction exists everywhere the seemingly obvious acknowledgment of therapy being taken as a coping skill that turns into escapism is not an absolute.. now if you take this though into an open context and non bias observation one can find that the physiological outcome is (seemingly) the same… but “this” chemical adaptation can stim from any accumulation or secular perception that is a taxation, because those with addictive issues generally are doing nothing but impairing themselves to escape instead of using therapeutic strategy and self regulation in lue of awareness/full acknowledgement of all factors to allow consolidation of self/stress origin and the irrational projection of observation.. .. and as we all know you cannot see what is not at the time visible and if overlooked it has room to move>physical breakdown occurs> in a way you could say retardation takes hold via stagnation i.e “use it or lose it”> and in response to said event of damage in part to the chronic cognitive impairment, cold turkey induced stress from nutritional deficit and or lack of structure… .. your brain with the lack of structure, cognitive ability and extreme lack of raw material/nutrition begins to cut corners and as well with the extreme escapism practices the past who knows when will all become autonomous and become a direct unacknowledged issue that effects others and self in major ways and with being completely ignorant risk cannot be mitigated and said codependency becomes more solidified.

(its a read, i dident intend on a page and a half but if not brought to light my studies are all for not.. aswell yes my physical application of literacy sucks, just bear with it as much as you can.. i only officially finished 4th grade, but i study
medical sciences/application pretty fucking compulsively so please do not allow my lack of primary education sway your judgment on if this will be worth your time or not.. please iam not dim nor am i an abundantly ignorant individual.)
So you went not a full 360, but could have easily done so “may have just been your articulation etc.. the extent to the veriable contexts in modern english is pretty closed.. i.e humans take shit to seriously in the pursuit of a singular answer/blame instead of understanding the natural order as much as possible with a non bias approach to all that is and can be tangible as influential factors.”
That being said, your introduction is on point with the implications of the scientific method “avoiding the whole singular answer thing”.
I earnestly do understand your statement does infact point out a common set of factors in this subject fore i know it first hand, as well it is obviously going to be a common developmental factor in addicts due to the process of life skill development in respects to survival.
But out of passion for the general field of study i must point out the decline into seemingly bias nature, because addiction exists everywhere the seemingly obvious acknowledgment of therapy being taken as a coping skill that turns into escapism is not an absolute.. now if you take this though into an open context and non bias observation one can find that the physiological outcome is (seemingly) the same… but “this” chemical adaptation can stim from any accumulation or secular perception that is a taxation, because those with addictive issues generally are doing nothing but impairing themselves to escape instead of using therapeutic strategy and self regulation in lue of awareness/full acknowledgement of all factors to allow consolidation of self/stress origin and the irrational projection of observation.. .. and as we all know you cannot see what is not at the time visible and if overlooked it has room to move>physical breakdown occurs> in a way you could say retardation takes hold via stagnation i.e “use it or lose it”> and in response to said event of damage in part to the chronic cognitive impairment, cold turkey induced stress from nutritional deficit and or lack of structure… .. your brain with the lack of structure, cognitive ability and extreme lack of raw material/nutrition begins to cut corners and as well with the extreme escapism practices the past who knows when will all become autonomous and become a direct unacknowledged issue that effects others and self in major ways and with being completely ignorant risk cannot be mitigated and said codependency becomes more solidified.

I’m a mom,grandmother and battle with constant sadness and desire to be Happy & PEACEFUL ,I want any and all advice. At 61 , I’m driven to stop this on and off roller coasterTHX

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