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Thinking Ahead is Possible New Treatment for Addictions

Deborah Shipley's picture

A promising new cognitive therapy, or brain training, approach to drug addiction was published in the recent issue of Biological Psychiatry.

Drug addiction is considered a brain disease, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, because the abuse of drugs leads to changes in the structure and function of the brain.

Drug prevention, education, and awareness programs seem to be quite effective for some individuals because they realize the long term repercussions of abusing substances. For those that are vulnerable to addictions, these measures often fall short.

One theory for this may be the “delayed discounting” sometimes present in those who are vulnerable to addictions.

Addicts tend to exhibit a trait called “delay discounting”, or the tendency to devalue rewards and punishments that occur in the future. Addicts may at the same time have a predisposition towards “reward myopia” which is the tendency towards the immediate gratification that drugs can provide with addictions.

Dr. Warren Bickel, from the Center for Addiction Research in Little Rock, Arkansas, and his colleagues borrowed a rehabilitation approach used successfully with patients suffering from stroke, or traumatic brain injury.

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The therapy approach utilized working memory training. Subjects addicted to stimulants were given brain exercises that focused on strengthening the areas of the brain associated with storing and managing information reasoning to guide behavior.

Dr. Bickel’s team had stimulant abusers repeatedly perform a working memory task and found that by strengthening the brain circuitry, they also reduced the addicts devaluation of longer term rewards.

Dr. John Krystal, Editor of Biological Psychiatry comments on the article:

"The legal punishments and medical damages associated with the consumption of drugs of abuse may be meaningless to the addict in the moment when they have to choose whether or not to take their drug. Their mind is filled with the imagination of the pleasure to follow. We now see evidence that this myopic view of immediate pleasures and delayed punishments is not a fixed feature of addiction. Perhaps cognitive training is one tool that clinicians may employ to end the hijacking of imagination by drugs of abuse.”

"Dr. Bickel says, “Although this research will need to be replicated and extended, we hope that it will provide a new target for treatment and a new method to intervene on the problem of addiction."

From more information on drug addiction visit: the National Institute on Drug Abuse