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Diet & Nutrition

We are all hard wired for addiction

Want to kick an everyday addiction? This study will help.

By Cat Rodie
Although we are more understanding than we used to be, there is still a huge stigma around addiction – especially when the addiction causes a great deal of harm.
But a new paper from the Drug and Alcohol Dependence journal suggests that we should have much more sympathy for people with serious addictions. In fact, psychology professor Brian Anderson says that we are all hard wired for addiction.
Anderson, who specialises in cognitive neuroscience, says people who experience addiction have a strong attention biases for drug cues.
He explains: "Attention bias is a tendency to direct your attention to something even when it conflicts with your goals, making it difficult to ignore. A drug cue is something that serves as a predictive cue for the experience of the drug.”
Anderson notes that when an individual becomes addicted to a substance, stimuli associated with that substance have a powerful ability to capture the attention of the individual.
But, according to Anderson, the bias for drug cues that is observed in drug addicts, is actually a normal cogitative process that is linked to the reward centres in the brain.
To test the theory, Anderson asked participants to perform a task in which they were rewarded with money for finding simple coloured objects.
Then participants performed a second task in which the previously rewarded objects were irrelevant and no longer rewarded. He then tested their ability to ignore the objects that had been rewarded in the first stage.
Anderson discovered that the objects participants associated with reward caught their attention more than the other objects.
"The attention biases were evident even when they conflicted with current goals, they lasted a long time, they were mediated by many of the same brain regions, and they facilitated action towards the stimulus," he explains.
This finding shows that we all have addiction-like tendencies.
Anderson says that he is humbled by the finding. “I think this is important to keep in mind when we try to make sense of why we and others we know do the things we do.
“Where we look and what we pursue are not always a reflection of our current conscious intentions. Rather, automatic biases are a normal part of life that we need to either consciously work against or replace with healthier habits when the ones we have led to bad outcomes,” Anderson explains.
This study may also be a comfort to people that find themselves struggling with more every day addictions; coffee, chocolate or ‘trash’ TV. Sometimes an addiction can seem very trivial from the outside, but can still be very consuming for the person living with it.
So, given that we could be hard wired for these sort or habits or addictions, what can we do to beat them?
Psychologist Joann Ludkins says it’s a good idea to start with mindfulness.
“By being mindful of your behaviours – ‘what am I doing?’, ‘why am I doing them?’ and ‘do I want to change or modify my behaviour in any way?’ you can then take steps towards behaviour change,” she explains.
Ludkins suggests the working on the following:
  • Develop a clear understanding as to why you want to change,
  • Think about all the benefits and the barriers to change,
  • Develop some strategies to overcome the barriers you have identified
  • Build your support network – think about people who will back you and avoid people who might inadvertently sabotage your efforts.
  • Add professionals to your support network (your GP can help with any physiological addictions (such as alcohol or smoking) and it may be worth consulting a psychologist.
  • Make a ‘relapse’ plan. What will you do to make sure that the relapse is only temporary?
  • Start enjoying life without your everyday addiction.

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