brain structure and addiction
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brain structure involved in addiction

Triggers have long been known to affect an individual who is addicted to drugs. The trigger may be a familiar place or a group of friends the person associates with the drug use. Scientists have recently conducted a study that shows an obscure brain structure involved in addiction, that may explain how these triggers work.

Addiction is a Chronic Disease

When someone is considered to be addicted to drugs, it means that person can’t stop taking the drug even they you want to. The urge is too strong to control, even if they know the drug is causing harm. The addiction can become more important than the need to eat or sleep.
The urge to get and use the drug can fill every moment of an individual’s life. The addiction replaces all the things they used to enjoy. A person who is addicted might do almost anything—lie, steal, or hurt people—to keep taking the drug. This can lead to problems with family and friends and can even lead to arrest and jail.
Drug addiction is a chronic disease. That means it stays with the person for a long time, even if they stop using for a while. It doesn’t just go away. A person with an addiction can get treatment, but quitting for good can be very hard.

What is a Trigger?

A trigger is anything that can make an addict feel the urge to go back to using drugs, even after receiving treatment. It can be a place, person, thing, smell, feeling, picture, or memory that reminds them of taking the drug and getting high. A trigger can be something stressful that they want to escape from or something that makes them feel happy. An individual fighting addiction needs to stay away from the people and triggers that can make them start using drugs again, just like the person with breathing problems needs to avoid smoke and dust.

Brain Structure

Researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have found an area of the brain that appears to be responsible for making the connections involved in these triggers. Our brains are wired to retain information around the context of specific events. For example, we usually always remember where and when we had our first kiss.
The researchers found that this mechanism is also part of the cause of drug addiction. It is the reason why hanging out in an environment or with the people associated with memories of drug use can often lead to relapse. In other words, the obscure brain structure discovered by these researchers is potentially the reason an addict responds to triggers so strongly.

Making the Connection

Although it is still unclear how the brain creates this strong association, the obscure brain region found by the researchers, known as the claustrum, plays a significant role in making the connection between the environment and the people associated with previous drug use and an addict’s trigger to begin using again.
The university researchers found a group of neurons within the brain structure that lit up during cocaine use in their study participants. These neurons are a significant factor in a noticeable link between the context in which the participants found themselves and the pleasures they found in the cocaine use.

Stimulus and Reward

The research team set up an experiment with mice to explore the scientists’ understanding of how the obscure brain structure involved in addiction makes the connection between stimulus and reward, known as incentive salience. The team administered cocaine to the mice and placed them in an area with rugged flooring and dotted wall patterns as the drug started to kick in, so they would start making that association.
After a few times, when placed in a room where the mice could choose either to hang out in a region similar to the one paired with cocaine (rugged floors and dotted wall) or a neutral area (smooth floor and striped walls), the mice would quickly congregate in the area where their drug high had played out.
The team then observed changes in the mice behavior when they stopped these claustral neurons from fully functioning. They found that the inhibition of these neurons also inhibited the mice’s behavioral responses to cocaine, and they no longer preferred hanging out in the cocaine-paired environment. On the other hand, activating these neurons — even in the absence of any cocaine — caused the mice to develop a preference for environment associated with their drug use.
The study of the obscure brain structure involved in addiction can lead us toward a better understanding of the nature of addiction and the importance of breaking contextual cues before they develop, helping to reduce the effects of triggers. Research co-leader Anna Terem concluded, “We hope this knowledge will lead to the development of new diagnostic tools to identify populations susceptible to addiction, as well as new therapeutic approaches.”

Opioid Addiction Treatment at Hope by the Sea

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