New Study Identifies Part Of Brain That Could Trigger Addiction

By McCarton Ackerman 12/11/14

The part of the brain that processes emotion could also help trigger addiction.

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A new study has found that the part of the brain responsible for processing emotions could also create a trigger for drug addiction. The new findings were published in the latest issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.

Researchers at the University of Michigan used rats for the study that focused on the brain’s amygdala, an almond-shaped mass that can also create intense cravings for sugary foods. The rats had the amygdala in their brains activated with a laser light for a few seconds whenever they pushed a lever to earn a sugary treat. A separate lever would also earn the rats a treat when it was pushed, but did not include the amygdala activation.

The scientists found that the rats only focused on the lever that triggered their amygdala and ignored the other one. However, the laser also proved to be meaningless to them unless the sugary treat was also present. These findings could show why addictive drugs could be so compelling to use when this portion of the brain is triggered.

"One reason they can be so problematic for certain individuals is their ability to become almost the sole focus of their daily lives, at the cost of one's health, job, family and general well-being," said the study's lead author, Mike Robinson, a former post-doctoral U-M fellow and currently an assistant professor of psychology at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. "Understanding the pathways involved in addictive-like behavior could provide new therapeutic avenues for treating addiction and other compulsive disorders.”

A study released last October also addressed issues in the brain related to addiction, concluding that the brain functions of gambling addicts are different than those of drug addicts. Researchers in London and Cambridge found that their opioid systems reacted differently, but problem gamblers also didn’t release nearly as many endorphins as their healthy counterparts. This means that gambling addicts must do more to experience the same “rush” as a non-addict, which could further fuel their addiction.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.