A recent research study, summarized in ScienceDaily for October 31, 2013, suggests that early repetitive satisfaction of urges for rewards, such as sweets or video games, may set the stage for development of addiction. The researchers looked at the portion of the brain that responds to learning based on stimulus-response; that portion of the brain is called the striatum. The striatum seems to grow in size based upon the frequency of behaviors stimulating it, such as rewarding behavior. Thus, the suggested theory is that children who develop a routine or strategy of getting their desires satisfied (called “stimulus response strategies”) for sweets, or to play video games, or watch “Dora the Explorer” may be more at risk for development of addiction. The researcher found that individuals that had developed a reliance upon this type of strategy smoked more, drank twice as much alcohol, and were more likely to use marijuana.
In the words of the researcher: "The literature indicates that children engage in stimulus-response strategies from a very young age *** Reward-seeking behavior in childhood, especially for immediate rewards like candy or playing action video games, stimulates the striatum and encourages stimulus-response strategies *** This would predispose the child to drug seeking behaviour."
This study’s conclusions provide another glimpse into how changes in the brain may explain addiction and its development. Prior research, for example, has suggested that addiction may in part be driven by the changes in the brain resulting from chronic (ongoing) exposure to feel good chemicals such as dopamine that are produced by consumption of addictive drugs (cocaine, opiates, alcohol, etc.).
Regardless of all this science that seeks to explain addiction, the individual who seeks to recover from addiction cannot afford to excuse his/her addictive behaviors and harmful consequences as due to brain changes. Research and science may explain addiction; they do not excuse the individual behaviors of the addicted individual. He or she must own his/her behaviors while using, and experience the resulting pain to themselves and those close to them; doing so can help motivate the individual to abstinence and recovery. There are no valid excuses for an alcoholic or addict to continue to use.
As always, comments are invited. Jan Edward Williams, www.alcoholdrugsos.com, 11/04/2013.