The University Of Utah has some emerging scientific studies going on around the fundamentals of addiction, specifically on how we approach and treat it. There is discussion going on that addiction may actually be a symptom of “normal learning gone awry” and how doctors can use this new found knowledge to help create more effective treatments for addiction. Contrary to what the past decades of research has said about the causes of addiction, this new understanding is suggesting that it is an action picked up and a young, impressionable age, becomes a behavior, and in therefore learned like all other behaviors. So essentially the same processes in the brain that facilitate normal learning get hijacked by drugs and or alcohol abuse. So take all other things we learn- they are experiences, and experiences that are rewarding become experiences we would like to have more than once, and generally time and time again. This rewarding experiences send chemicals to the brain saying let's do this again, and again, and again. This process is not different with drugs, but the changes of physical addiction and other factors are much higher than with other activities making it very hard to quit the set of addictive behaviors. Because addictive drugs wear heavily on the dopamine system of the brain, causing “normal” learning patterns to be thrown off. This disruption of natural dopamine producing makes it harder for naturally occurring levels of dopamine to be enough of a reward for our brains to feel satisfied. This creates the dependence on drugs, and the increase in amount used over time, the more you use the more you need to keep up the dopamine levels your brain is now dependent on. The things that used to give them pleasure don’t give them pleasure anymore, just the drug and alcohol use, and eventually in time this will cease as well.
So this new treatment they are talking about up at the U is focusing on the idea of getting people to understand how automatic a habit addiction has become in their lives. Then looking at treatments that can do two things: one they can help a person in becoming aware of this, and two helping people become aware of the automatic response their bodies have due to triggers. Then the person can hopefully begin to exercise small bits of self control over the automatic habit, and learn how to re-introduce healthy habits that create pleasure back into their lives. The University goes on to say that there have been millions of dollars invested by the National Institutes of health, specifically the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the National Institute on Alcoholism devoted to this very topic. They want to learn all they can on this topic, how neurons communicate with each other, and how drugs actually affect neurotransmission.