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Indiana University Explores Cognitive Therapy Techniques for Addiction

A clinical psychologist at Indiana University Bloomington recently received a $2.3M grant from the National Institute of Health to explore new techniques for reducing impulsive decision-making associated with alcoholism and other conditions.

Cognitive Therapy Techniques

The Brain’s Role In Substance Abuse

There is a common misconception that addiction is a moral failure, but scientists have concluded that it’s actually a disease of the brain. Over the last few decades, neuroscience has been able to determine that factors like brain chemistry, anatomy and genetic risk all play a role in addiction.

When a person first uses a substance, the brain is flooded with dopamine and other neurotransmitters. These “feel-good” reactions are typically achieved by hard work and time – it’s how our brain rewards us for things like finding food, learning a new skill, finding a mate, etc. But substances like alcohol and drugs provide a shortcut to dopamine, giving the brain more dopamine way faster than it otherwise typically gets. And the brain recognizes this.

The hippocampus and amygdala – parts of the brain’s memory and learning center – store information, tucking away memories that can be recalled again. This is where we learn and remember things. In the very same way, the brain “learns” about substances, but instead of being a positive learning experience, addiction “hijacks” the brain. The brain, previously rewarded by onslaughts of dopamine, remembers that the substance brings “pleasure.” The slightest cue associated with the substance (a pipe, a glass, an image of someone partaking) then creates a conditioned response: an intense craving that is unable to be ignored.

During the progression of addiction, a person eventually loses control – sometimes complete control – over their cravings and subsequent compulsion to use.

How Studying Memory Might Shed Light On New Addiction Treatments

The compulsiveness of addiction and poor decision-making associated with it is at the core of Peter Finn’s study at Indiana University Bloomington. With the recent grant from the National Institute of Health, Finn, a professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences in the College of Arts and Sciences, is working to determine whether cognitive therapies can help to improve working memory, which can in turn improve decision-making skills.

“Working memory reflects a kind of memory-attention interaction, which enables us to control our attention, to focus on a particular topic, shift our attention away and shift it back at will,” said Finn. “Our work shows that there’s a common vulnerability to substance use disorders, ADHD and antisocial personality disorder. All are associated with similar problems with impulsive and risky decision-making and a low working memory capacity.”

Using cognitive training programs, Professor Finn’s goal is to re-focus the brain’s attention in a way that modifies impulsive decision-making in those with alcoholism. Further, he said he hopes to understand “the factors that may predict the positive impact of these programs on impulsivity in those with alcohol dependence and antisocial behavior in general.”

Finding Help For Addiction

If you need help for an addiction, or are seeking help for a loved one who does, contact The Watershed Texas today.

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