Brain Health,
Sci + Society,

#209: Addiction – Old and New Schools

December 08, 2017

Robert Palmer was Addicted to Love.

More than 30% of Americans self-identify as “chocoholics.”

Addiction is a term tossed around so casually — often when we’re just poking fun at ourselves or others — that it’s easy to forget that it’s actually a clinical term with a fairly strict definition.

But while the “official” addiction terminology is a lot less playful than the pop culture nod-and-wink version, it’s still a term with very broad potential application.

“the state of being compelled to continue a habit or practice that is psychologically or physically habit-forming, even when the effects of continuing are understood to be negative or dangerous.”

In Episode #209, I spoke with two experts on addiction: Dr. Nora Volkow and Dr. Daria Kuss.  Each of them looks at addiction through a fundamentally different lens, and yet there are striking contours in the problems they see.

Dr. Volkow is the Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), a wing of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).  She looks at how society can work to handle the treatment and prevention of pharmacological drug addiction.  This is the “classical” version of addiction, what happens when “Just Say No” has failed.

Dr. Kuss is a senior lecturer at Nottingham Trent University in the United Kingdom, and one of the advocates of a widening field of study known as cyberpsychology — the study of the intersection of human brains, behavior, and our technologies.  (Particularly communication and “immersive” technologies like the Internet, social media, VR and AR.)

A Hijacked Reward System

The common element in addictions of all types is that the brain’s reward and learning systems have learned the wrong lesson.  We are built to appreciate positive stimuli (of course), and when we enjoy something — or that something reduces an unpleasant sensation — then we’ll seek more of it in the future.

Problems arise when that addictive something is more effective and/or more readily available than would have ever happened in our ancestral environment.  “Too much of a good thing” is a problem that rarely befell our ancestors, but we deal with it constantly now.

Nicotine, tasty-but-unhealthy foods, high-speed internet porn, dopaminergic drugs of abuse… They’re all lures to our reward systems, and lessons that we can learn too well for our own good.

But knowledge is power – and as the world makes us more and more offers of fleeting pleasures, understanding the mechanisms behind addiction may be our best defense.

Past Episodes Dealing With Addiction

We looked through the Smart Drug Smarts archives and it was even more than I’d first imagined.  Lots of great information here:

Curious about that time-saving tip mentioned in Episode #209?

I promised you a peek at the most recent Brain Breakfast… And so here it is.  Without commercial interruptions, or even needing to open your email inbox.  🙂

Show Notes
  • 00:00:33

    Episode introduction.

  • 00:02:12

    This Week In Neuroscience: Violent video games and emotional desensitization.

  • 00:04:46

    5-Star review shoutouts.

  • 00:05:20

    SDS news and updates.

  • 00:07:12

    Guest introduction: Dr. Nora Volkow.

  • 00:08:01

    Guest introduction: Dr. Daria Kuss.

  • 00:08:30

    Interview begins: Dr. Volkow on drugs in the brain.

  • 00:09:58

    Dr. Kuss on her research.

  • 00:10:38

    Vulnerable individuals and factors that influence a person's vulnerability (Dr. Volkow).

  • 00:14:30

    Parallels between the current age of technology and similar periods in the past (Dr. Kuss).

  • 00:15:30

    Internet addiction and Internet Gaming Disorder (Dr. Kuss).

  • 00:16:40

    Similarities between internet addiction and other types of substance related addictions (Dr. Kuss).

  • 00:17:07

    Social policy implications (Dr. Volkow).

  • 00:19:00

    Alcohol and opioid addiction susceptibility (Dr. Volkow).

  • 00:21:49

    Indicators of internet addiction (Dr. Kuss).

  • 00:24:05

    Gamification of social networking sites (Dr. Kuss).

  • 00:26:10

    Drug addiction and discomfort (Dr. Volkow).

  • 00:27:20

    Physiological dependence versus addiction (Dr. Volkow).

  • 00:29:45

    What is it like to have an addiction? (Dr. Volkow)

  • 00:30:55

    Social aspects of internet addiction versus gambling addiction (Dr. Kuss).

  • 00:32:46

    Where do you see the path forward? (Dr. Volkow)

  • 00:37:20

    Therapies internet addiction, strategies (Dr. Kuss).

  • 00:40:55

    Parallels between breaking a gaming addiction and breaking a social networking addiction (Dr. Kuss).

  • 00:42:28

    Where are we in dealing with the opioid crisis? (Dr. Volkow)

  • 00:44:35

    Would an alternative therapy result in a similar crisis? (Dr. Volkow)

  • 00:46:00

    How do we deal with large corporations who aim to maximize addictiveness? (Dr. Kuss).

  • 00:49:55

    Any parallels between gaming addiction and workaholism? (Dr. Kuss)

  • 00:51:00

    Social gaming (Dr. Kuss).

  • 00:53:32

    Stimulants for therapeutic use and as cognitive enhancers (Dr. Volkow).

  • 00:56:10

    Stigmas associated with many drugs.

  • 00:58:44

    Interview wrap-up.

  • 01:00:00

    Ruthless Listener Retention Gimmick: A Cognitive Benefit of Alcohol.

  • 01:02:45

    Episode wrap-up.

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