The reason dependence is so complex is because it’s tied in to virtually every mechanism related to memory. It’s why experts struggle to draw the line consistently between behavioural and substance addiction.
Lately, I’ve been writing about behavioural neuroscience. And these discussions are loosely framed around a book I was invited to review, entitled Overloaded: How Every Aspect of Your Life is Influenced by Your Brain Chemicals, written by Ginny Smith. One topic that makes an appearance quite frequently throughout is addiction.
As you can appreciate, this would need to be one protracted exposition to do justice to that subject. There were a couple of findings described in Smith’s book, however, that stood out to me; and they can go a long way in understanding, treating, and even avoiding harmful addictions altogether.
What memory teaches us about addiction
Habituation facilitates learning; is a form of long-term memory; is involved in everything from trauma to perception, movement, and, of course, dependence.
Two very powerful forms of memory are known to exist in all habits, behaviours, and, yes, addictions. It is involved with any kind of activity we engage in. One is called tolerance or habituation. Speaking specifically about addiction, if any of you have gone through periods of heavier drinking in your life, you will have noticed this.
Whereas at one time it may have only taken a couple or a few drinks to get a respectable buzz, now, after a prolonged interval of excessive drinking, you need a whole bottle or two bottles of wine to get as tipsy. Or if beer is your flavour of choice, you might need a six pack or more. If it’s hard liquor, you may be going through the better half of a 26 oz.
Neurologically, what is happening here is something called long-term depression (LTD). I’m not referring to the depressing effects of alcohol abuse. LTD is a process of habituation…