It may be a little surprising to see just how deep some of the addiction research studies have gone. For years, scientists have been working to uncover why certain people gravitate towards using and what type of fulfillment these experiences may have on the brain. An interesting point recently shared by The BBC highlights how many dependent people may not even really like the high they achieve when they use. But as their article points out, “like” and “want” can be very different sensations when it comes to drugs and alcohol.
The BBC piece delves into the brain hormone dopamine, which is a well known component tied to addiction. Dopamine is often thought of as a pleasure hormone and the key driver behind compulsive behavior (such as drinking, gambling and what have you). A recent British study peeled apart this element of addiction, actually removing dopamine from the brains of test mice. What they found was that the pleasure, or “like,” was still there for the substances the mice had already become dependent on, but the “want” had dissipated.
So, in essence, dopamine leads to temptation, but not necessarily enjoyment. BBC article writer David Edmonds likened it to the coffee habits of certain people.
“An example in my own life would be my coffee drinking behavior,” Edmonds wrote. “I both want and like my morning cup of coffee. But the afternoon cup of coffee – which somehow I cannot resist making – tastes bitter and unpleasant to me. I want it, but I don’t like it.”
Tying everything back to addiction, the article goes on to explain how the “want” really drives the dependent behavior. This can be summarized even by visual cues. For example, urges may arise from simply seeing a bottle of alcohol. That’s what triggers the dopamine hormone, much more than the actual sensation you get by drinking it.
It is theorized that this scenario explains the large amount of relapses that occur with addiction. People may not crave the taste of a particular substance anymore, but seeing some remembrance of it can lead to a downward spiral.
Edmonds article concludes with future steps these researchers are taking to influence the behaviors of people overcoming their addictions.
“From what we’ve seen, the wanting never ceases to go away,” the article concludes. “That makes drug addicts extremely vulnerable to relapse. They want to take the drugs again, even if the drugs give them little or no pleasure. For rats, the dopamine sensation can last half a lifetime. The task now for researchers is to find whether they can reverse this sensation – in rats, and then hopefully, in humans.”