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Mindfulness Can Rewire the Brain of an Addict

Researchers feel that cognitive-behavioral therapy can erase brain patterns that lock addicts into a cycle of abuse.

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By Victoria Kim

07/31/14

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It’s not just the addictive substance that rewires the brain, but addictive behaviors as well, according to a new article published in the journal Neuroscience and Behavioral Reviews. That is, it’s not just what is consumed, but what is experienced that can make the brain crave the experience in the same manner it can be taught to crave a drug.

According to conventional theory over the past decade, an addict’s brain becomes hardwired to crave the drug so that it becomes the brain’s only reward and therefore its only motivation. This is known as incentive-sensitization.

The article said, however, that if addictive behaviors rewire the brain, the challenge is to erase these patterns of behavior. The authors conclude that cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can “increase awareness of cues that trigger craving and teach skills that enable new patterns of thinking and acting.” This is in lieu of therapeutic drug treatments that are able to mask the brain’s addictive desires but are not usually effective at establishing new patterns in the brain.

However, Richard Taite, founder and CEO of Cliffside Malibu, pointed out that CBT “depends on these cues and cravings being conscious.” For unconscious cravings, the article recommended mindfulness-based interventions, which “can potentially target unconscious ‘wanting’ mechanisms by increasing awareness of bodily and emotional signals.”

Mindfulness can make these cravings conscious, Taite said, while CBT can deprogram them. Rewriting the brain’s system of incentives and motivations may be the secret to addiction recovery.

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