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Habits are usually associated with certain routines such those related to exercise or diet. However, when some habits take the form of an obsession such as repeatedly washing hands or cleaning one’s home or double-checking things like locks or switches then it is categorized as obsessive compulsive disorders (OCDs). Additionally, addictions are also the result of harmful habits like drug abuse or smoking. Addiction and habits might appear different from each other but the brain treats them quite similarly.
An old study, “Wanting, liking and learning: Neuroscience and paternalism,” published by Colin F. Camerer, explained the decision-making process pertaining to disorders and addictions. It said that the “learning system” aids the “wanting system” in the brain to understand what it likes. The act of wanting to perform a task is different from liking it. But when it comes to disorders and addictions, this link does not hold true anymore. Obsessive behavior like frequently washing hands that is governed by the wanting system does not increase the pleasure to the liking system.
This is explained further in the book, “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg. It analyses how habits are formed through the “habit loop” consisting of cue-routine-reward-craving cycle. A task or an activity is performed in the presence of a cue. For instance, a man is addicted to watching pornography, usually after his wife goes to bed. The satisfaction from such indulgence (the liking system) is the reward. The craving (the wanting system) for this reward is what would urge the man to continue following this routine. Habits can transition to addiction when the brain starts to get obsessed with these cravings. Later on, even the anticipation of his wife going to bed can act as a powerful cue to carry forth with his routine. Similarly, such cravings can be triggered from an external stimulus like tobacco smoke or internal like double checking the lock on the door.
When habits are reinforced over a period of time and become second nature to an individual, brain scans show that the brain activities become higher as they sense the cue instead from carrying out the routine. The “liking system” stops to acknowledge the reward of the activity.
The region of the brain that houses most of the emotional states is the extended amygdala and according to scientists, it plays an important role in the development of addiction because of its association with emotions and stress.
In the most basic sense, memories from various life events can be recalled as good and bad. As memories are formed, the brain stores the memory of the event along with the emotions associated with it. When an individual reminisces about a past event like a pleasant holiday they once took, they can experience the associated pleasurable emotional state without actually being there. Similarly, for an individual with an addiction need, the mere thought of the drug abusing activity is enough to render the pleasurable emotions associated with it. This plays a huge role in the development of habits and addictions as experiencing pleasurable memories can lead to the repetition of behaviors and routines that offer the same feeling.
The brain can associate negative emotions with bad memories which can play an important role during withdrawal. When an individual experiences withdrawal, the brain invokes the unpleasant emotions and memories associated with it which add to the burden of withdrawal. Sooner or later, the relief from the withdrawal transforms into pleasure itself. In later stages of addiction, the pleasurable satisfaction from withdrawal can lead to relapse.
It is important to understand how addiction can take root in one’s life. If you or a loved one is struggling with an addiction, it is important to clear the accumulated toxins from the body for which detoxification is important. Contact the Colorado Detox Helpline to connect to the best detox treatment centers in Colorado. Call at our 24/7 helpline number (866) 730-5807 or chat online with our representatives for further information on detoxification treatment centers in Colorado.
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