Brain plasticity in drug addiction: Burden and benefit – Harvard Health Blog

the human brain tis most complex organ n'our body, and is toonized by a unique ability called neuroplasticity. neuroplasticity refers to our brain’s ability to change and adapt in its structural and functional lvls in response to experience. neuroplasticity makes it possible for us to learn new languages, solve complex mathematical problems, acquire teknical skills, and perform challenging athletic skills, which are all + and advantageous for us. however, neuroplasticity aint beneficial if we develop non-advantageous learned behaviors. one ex of non-advantageous learning is habitual drug misuse that can lead to addiction.

our brain learns to respond to drugs of abuse

our 1st decision to use a drug maybe triggered by curiosity, circumstances, personality, and sufferationful life events. this 1st drug exposure increases the release offa molecule (neurotransmitter) called dopamine, which conveys the feeling of reward. the increased changes in dopamine lvls inna brain reward system can lead to further neuroplasticity folloing repeated exposure to drugs of abuse; these neuroplasticity changes are also primordial toonistics of learning. experience-dependent learning, including repeated drug use, mite increase or decrease the transmission of signals tween neurons. neuroplasticity inna brain’s reward system folloing repeated drug use leads to + habitual and (in vulnerable pplz) + compulsive drug use, where pplz ignore the neg consequences. thus, repeated exposure to drugs of abuse creates experience-dependent learning and rel8d brain changes, which can lead to maladaptive patterns of drug use.

views on addiction: learning and disease

a recent learning model proposed by dr. marc lewis in new england journal of med highlites the evidence of brain changes in drug addiction, and explains those changes as normal, habitual learning without referring to pathology or disease. this learning model accepts that drug addiction is disadvantageous, but believes tis a natural and context-sensitive response to challenging environmental circumstances. dr. nora volkow, director of the national institute on drug abuse (nida), and many addiction researchers and clinicians, view addiction as a brain disease triggered by many genetic, environmental, and social factors. nida uses the term “addiction” to describe the most severe and chronic form of substance use disorder that is toonized by changes inna brain’s reward, sufferation, and self-control systems. primordially, both learning and brain disease models accept that addiction is treatable, as our brain is plastic.

we can adapt to new learned behaviors

our brain’s plastic nature suggests that we can change our behaviors throughout our lives by learning new skills and habits. learning models support that overcoming addiction can be facilitated by adopting new cogg modifications. learning models suggest pursing counseling or ψ-chotherapy, including approaches s'as cogg behavioral therapy (cbt), which cannelp a'pers modify their habits. nida suggests that, for some pplz, drations (also called dration-assisted treatment or mat) cannelp pplz manage symptoms to a lvl that helps them pursue recovery via strategies s'as counseling and behavioral therapies, including cbt. many pplz use a combination approach of drations, behavioral therapies, and support groups to maintain recovery from addition.

neuroplasticity cannelp us modify behaviors relevant to addiction

cbt is an ex offa learning-based therapeutic intervention; thus, it utilizes neuroplasticity. sci evidence suggests that cbt, alone or in combination with other treatment strategies, can be effective intervention for substance use disorders. cbt teaches a'pers to recognize, avoid, and learn to handle situations when they ‘d be likely to use drugs. another ex of evidence-based behavioral therapy that s'been shown to be effective for substance use disorders is contingency management. contingency management provides a reward (s'as vouchers redeemable for goods or movie passes) to individuals undergoin addiction treatment, to reinforce + behaviors s'as abstinence. this approach is based on operant conditioning theory, a form of learning, where a behavior that is +ly reinforced tends to be repeated. overall, multiple evidence-based approaches are used for the treatment of substance use disorders that require learning and utilize neuroplasticity.

the bottom line

our brain is plastic, and this trait helps us learn new skills and retrain our brain. as the brain can change in a neg way as envisaged in drug addiction, the brain can also change in a + way whn'we adopt skills learned in therapy and form new, healthier habits.


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neurobiologic advances from the brain disease model of addiction. new england journal of med, jan 28, 2016.

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authors: maria mavrikaki, phd


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