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Motivation vs. Habit: What’s Really Driving Addiction

Addiction is one of the greatest issues that face our modern society and it has only grown worse over time. More potent substances have contributed to the increasing number of people developing addictions. With how massive of a problem this has been for so long, it has led to numerous studies and research regarding the causes and factors behind addiction. The studies have varied in their exact premises about addiction, such as whether it is biological, psychological, behavior related, etc. These different studies have had a wide range of results and this has also lead to numerous types of treatment designed around varying premises. For some time, a large consensus about addiction has been that it is a habitual type of behavior and many treatment types were geared in this direction. Although, a new study may have shed some new light and displayed that addiction might be more linked to motivation, rather than habit.

The Details of the New Research

The recent research was done by Brian Singer and colleagues. Singer, lead author of the study, is at the Open University of England and was also a former psychology researcher at the University of Michigan. As with many other addiction studies, this one involved using rats to observe certain behaviors, with the tested substance being cocaine. Although, this study differed in a very major way, particularly in the tasks required by the rats to actually receive a reward. Previous studies typically involved repetitive behaviors like pressing a lever to receive drugs, whereas the new study had the rats completing increasingly harder puzzles to receive the reward.

The required puzzles would change after weeks of testing, which essentially eliminated the chance of addiction-like behavior becoming habitual or automatic according to the researchers. The specific layout involved rats being placed in chambers that had puzzles within them, with the associated tasks including pressing levers, poking their nose into holes, and spinning a wheel. In addition, these tasks had to be completed in a certain order and if any mistakes were made, the puzzle would have to be restarted from the beginning. Once the puzzle was correctly completed, the rats would be able to administer themselves small doses of cocaine. The researchers dubbed this new system the Puzzle Self-Administration Procedure or PSAP. Their question was whether extended exposure to this experience would still result in addiction-like behavior. The answer to this question ended up being yes, as the rats displayed sensitized motivation for the drug, intake escalation, continued use despite adverse consequences and cue-induced reinstatement of drug-seeking.

What the researchers were able to show is that addiction has a large basis in motivation over the habit. The rats were willing to persevere and adapt to receive their desired dose of cocaine. With how the puzzles fluctuated, habitual behavior was never really able to form. Rather, the rats were motivated enough to discover and work their way through the necessary actions to receive their cocaine.

One does not have to strain to see how this can apply and fit with those struggling with addiction. Many of those struggling can become incredibly resourceful and motivated when it comes to obtaining their substance of choice. They may have difficulty figuring out some other problem, but when they need their fix, it is like they become increasingly better problem solvers. We see addicts find ways to obtain or borrow money to purchase a substance, find connections in unfamiliar places, etc. When it comes to their substance of choice and its desired effects, their motivation reaches a new level.

The Effects of Addiction on the Brain

The motivation basis was further borne out by what the researchers observed in regard to the rat’s brain activity during this study. The researchers found that the brain regions important for habit regulation were not involved in this drug seeking, but the regions involved with motivation controlled the drug seeking. There are sections of our brains associated with various behaviors and drug use results in a production of dopamine in certain sections. Dopamine is a chemical involved in the reward and pleasure centers of the brain. A basic summation is that certain activities or substances result in the production of dopamine in the brain, which makes us feel good and often inspires us to indulge in these activities or substances again. Of course, addiction and substance abuse often involve a ne plus ultra of this reward-seeking behavior.

How This New Information May Help Us to Treat Addiction

While the habit-forming premises about addiction have led to significant advances in treating this condition, this new research may be able to further our ability in this avenue. If we are able to explore the motivational basis of addiction, it can easily contribute to a better understanding of it, as well as adapted treatments. This way, we can begin to have higher success rates and help more people to break free of this hellacious condition. Realistically, many of our treatment methods over the years have been somewhat hit or miss, as they vary in their premise. Some go off the basis of addiction being a purely behavioral issue, others base it on addiction being a mental disorder, and many have viewed it as a habit. With these wide variations, it is quite apparent why there has not been more success. Of course, there is not necessarily going to be an across the boards type of treatment that works for every individual, but having a better basis can allow us to improve from there. If we narrow down the basis and factors of addiction, we can create more pinpointed treatments that more accurately address the root difficulties and motivations.

It may take some time for the idea of habitual addiction to change, being that it has been around for so long. Although, further research directed toward motivation-based addiction may begin to change minds and help us understand how to mitigate the problem. We can design treatments that encompass the idea of motivation and perhaps help individuals to direct this motivation and creative problem solving toward more constructive avenues. After all, if they are able to be so motivated and skilled in problem-solving when it comes to obtaining and using substances, imagine what they would be able to do with this effort aimed in a positive direction.

When Seeking a Drug Recovery Center

Addiction can be an incredibly difficult condition to be afflicted with, but it is not impossible to overcome. Best Drug Rehabilitation is here for just that. We help thousands of people to break free of addiction every single year and would like to do the same for you or your loved one. Our drug recovery program is unique from many others in that we create a custom program for every single person that is admitted into our facility. This is because each case of addiction is unique in many different ways and our custom programs account for the particular difficulties that an individual is struggling with in their life. We offer numerous modalities so that we can create a suitable program for virtually anyone. Give us a call today and one of our staff members can answer any questions that you may have regarding our drug recovery program.

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