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Are You Hard Wired for Addiction?

Joseph Sparks

31st August 2016

A recent study in the Journal of Drug and Alcohol Dependence suggests that we are all hard wired for addiction.

Professor Anderson explains how addicts suffer from strong attention biases - which is when you direct your attention towards something (e.g. drugs), even when it conflicts with your current goals. Furthermore, when an individual is addicted to a particular substance (e.g. nicotine) any stimuli associated with that substance has the ability to capture the person's attention, increasingly the likelihood of an individual maintaining their addiction.

However, Anderson goes onto explain that the attention bias found in drug addicts, is a normal cognitive process which is linked to the reward centres in the brain. To test this idea Anderson presented participants with a simple task where they were rewarded with money for finding simple coloured objects. He then gave the participants a second task in which the coloured objects (which previously rewarded with money) were no longer relevant and no longer provided a reward. Anderson found that even in the second task, participants focused their attention on the coloured objects more than any other object, suggesting that the previously associated reward created an attention bias toward these objects.

The results of this study can be applied to many every day addictions, for example coffee, chocolate, Facebook...or even work, as the rewarding properties of these substances/situations can lead to an attention bias and the maintenance of an addiction. Fortunately, psychologist Joann Ludkins provides practical applications using the technique mindfulness to help beat these hardwired addictions. Ludkins outlines a series of steps which can be found here.

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Joseph Sparks

Joseph is a Subject Advisor for Psychology at tutor2u. He is an experienced Psychology & Music Teacher, Writer, Examiner and Presenter. He is currently completing a Professional Doctorate in Education and is passionate about the impact of technology on teaching and learning.

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