Cravings are one of the most difficult parts of recovery to cope with and treat. Although short-lived, cravings can quickly derail recovery for both new and seasoned pros at the recovery game. Intense cravings are driven by the brain, seeking the dopamine release that comes from using addictive substances. The brain circuits, scientists have found, can tell us a lot about addiction cravings and how to support individuals in recovery better.

Motivation to Use Drugs

Pavlov’s classical conditioning experiment is often cited by scientists when explaining how people with addiction are motivated to use drugs or alcohol. Cravings are the result of repeated pairings of certain environmental or external cues (people, places, smells, sounds) with drug and other addictive use disorders (gambling, food, sex, etc). For individuals in recovery, addiction cravings can kick in even when the drug is not present. When repeatedly paired with a reward, the motivation to seek and obtain it can be transferred to the cute itself. This explains why people with certain triggers (sounds, sights, smells) can be motivated to use drugs even following an extended period of abstinence. New studies are coming out which provide a different approach to reducing or eliminating cravings.

Incentive Sensitization Theory

Scientists have identified what is called “incentive salience” which depends on a person’s current neurobiological state, reward motivation and previously learned associations about the reward. The theory suggests incentive salience is an unconscious process which involves highly sensitized neural systems such as the mesocorticolimbic brain system. The pairing of an external stimulus cue with drug use primes a person’s motivation to obtain and consume more of the reward (drug) induced by repeated use. Stress, for example, can create a desire to return to drug use by elevating signals which release dopamine into the system. This explains how a person may ‘want’ a drug but not ‘like’ or desire the use of the drug.

Why it Matter

The brain’s region involved in conditioned and unconditioned responses (ventral pallidum) attributes value to cues paired with rewards. Designer receptors are a new technology which exclusively become activated by designer drugs to repeatedly disrupt ventral pallidum activity in rats. Through an injection of clozapine N-oxide (CNO) into the ventral pallidum, scientists have found a way to suppress activity of the ventral pallidum and block the rats’ sign-tracking behavior (pressing a lever to get a ‘hit’ of the drug). The conclusion being that inactivation of the ventral pallidum during this behavior disrupted transfer of the reward, thus making it less desirable. Targeting the ventral pallidum in the brain may be useful when taking away incentive to use drugs in response to triggers among people with addiction.

Cypress Lakes understands the challenge of triggers and relapse for people with addiction. We provide a place that offers a safe environment to explore therapeutic support for addiction recovery with a focus on mind, body, and spirit. We are here to help you. Call us to get started today: 866-217-2636