Strike A Chord: Addiction #1-The Brain

Drug overdoses are the leading cause of death for Americans under 50 and are killing people faster than cars and guns combined. In our Strike A Chord series this week we're looking at the addiction underpinning those deaths.

It’s possible that your brain evolved to embrace addiction. According to Dr. Joseph Lee at the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation in Minnesota, your brain has core programming to keep you alive by regulating your reward system.  According to Dr. Lee, "All of our brains are designed some parts our brains are designed for and developing ... priority for behaviors that assisting in you know food, sex and, shelter, kind of behaviors okay, so everybody is prone to a kind of behavioral conditioning."

Dr. Lee uses a caveman metaphor to help illuminate this phenomenon.

"You're a caveman and and you're about to hunt bison or something in the bison could kill you because you have very primitive weapons and you're scared, but you can also happen to have had bison meat before. Now, you're more likely to go, take a risk than other people to go hunt."

That’s the reward center in your brain lighting up. The reward of finding a bison and getting the benefit of that bison as food - is so strong it will allow you to overcome your fear of being gored by an angry American Buffalo.

Dr Lee points to this motivator, "This is kind of what addiction is. addiction is that kind of conditioning gone awry, and so when people get addicted they have and what we call anticipatory reward."

That anticipatory reward is at the heart of addiction. And the relationship between doing something potentially bad for you that your brain will nonetheless reward you for? That’s when things can go wrong.

What comes next is usually a distortion of values to stay in front of the addiciton. Addiction is not just about the sensation of a thing, it’s partly about the anticipation - of the sensation of doing a thing - from drugs to sex to gambling to basically any type of behavior that begins to disrupt your health and social functioning. And you begin to distort your values to keep at it.


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