National Institute on Alcohol Abuse & Alcoholism Identifies 3 Keys To Addiction

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National Institute on Alcohol Abuse & Alcoholism Identifies 3 Keys To Addiction

Addiction is a complex condition that has kept researchers scratching their heads for as long as we have evolved enough to think about it critically. The models of addiction range from moral flaw, to disease, and everything in between.

But a new article released by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism offers a new paradigm in thinking, and may help us better understand why some people develop addictions and others do not, and how to prevent and treat existing addiction.

The paper’s authors say that their results are based on current research, and that addiction has 3 basic components.

The Keys To Addiction

#1: Executive Function

Executive function in the human brain helps people analyze and handle big-picture challenges. It considers complex questions and provides complex answers. It enables reasoning, problem-solving, and planning.

As it turns out, people with addictions often have trouble with this type of thinking, specifically the ability to engage in long-term planning. The also have problems with attention, inhibition (impulsiveness) and judgments about both the past and future.

These issues have shown to be present in people who use substances or engage in alcohol abuse, and also appear to be contributing factors to addiction as a mental illness.

#2 Incentive and Reward Prominence

According to the researchers, addiction is also influenced by reward seeking behavior. The brain doesn’t do all of its decision-making at the executive level. Some behavior just boils down to wanting something for the reward it brings. Once your brain is trained to want something, you develop a craving. When the craving is fed, the brain releases chemicals that make you feel good, such as dopamine.

People who have addictions, however, have an altered reward system. The brain gauges the craving as more important than it is, and results in larger rewards upon arrival.

#3 Negative Emotions

Simply put, people with addiction tend to be more negative – they are more likely to react in a sad or negative manner to stimuli. This is called hypohedonia, and it makes people more susceptible to cravings. Moreover, their substance of choice becomes a sort of self-medication for their bad feelings.


Addressing the significance of these components and joining them together in a simple fashion can potentially help both patients and mental health professionals make sense of addiction, as well as find new approaches to treatment.

~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology

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