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The Causes Of Addictive Behavior, Brain Study

Update Date: Nov 01, 2013 02:33 PM EDT

The addictions of drugs, alcohol and cigarettes have been analyzed by scientists for years. According to the South China Morning Post, more recently addictive behaviors such as the addiction to the internet and gaming are being studied in an attempt to correlate all addictions and find an effective treatment.  

Researchers have observed in a study the reactions of the brain to identify what causes addictions. 

"They have found that powerful memories, often of highly pleasurable or intense experiences, underlie addiction," reported SCMP. "During such experiences the brain releases a chemical called dopamine that creates a reward circuit in the brain, by logging the intense experience as pleasurable and an important action to be repeated."

According to researchers, dopamine release happens in the ventral tegmental area (VTA) of the brain. Epigenetic changes occur in brain nerve cells which in turn forms reward memories. 

"These chemical changes are a mix of DNA methylation and demethylation, which either turns genes off or on," reported SCMP. "Such a system allows changes in how genes are expressed in cells without altering our genetic code, and forms a type of genetic memory."

Researchers believe that abused substances are associated with the same parts of the brain linked to reward processing. 

"Because of this, scientists originally thought that drug addiction took over normal reward memory nerve pathways," reported SCMP. "However, a more nuanced picture is now emerging."

Dr Jeremy Day from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, who led a study, said, "Although drug experiences may co-opt normal reward mechanisms to some extent, our results suggest they also may engage entirely separate epigenetic mechanisms that contribute only to addiction and that may explain its strength."

Researchers said that in normal reward processing the VTA signals to the nucleus accumbens (NAC) in the brain.

For the study, scientists blocked methylation changes in both the VTA and NAC and they predicted this would block the formation of reward memories. 

The scientists found that the stopping of reward memories only happened when the VTA was blocked and not the NAC. 

This finding suggested that there is a distinction between chemical regulation in reward responses and addiction responses.

As researchers express addictions are unhealthy they are trying to find new best suitable treatments for it. 

"Treatment of addiction requires a multi-pronged approach," said SCMP. "These include the gradual reduction of the abused substance with the aim of total abstinence, and counseling services. Experts agree a key aspect of addiction treatment is social and family support."

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