21 Nov Avoiding Negative Feelings Feeds Addiction
For years addiction experts have discussed reward and euphoria as the driving factors in drug use. Now a study suggests the cycle of drug use and addiction may have more to do with avoiding negative emotions.
The study by Rutgers neuroscience professor Mark West and doctoral student David Barker used lab rats to mirror human drug use patterns. The rats, which were allowed to binge on cocaine for six hours, made high-pitched sounds associated with positive responses when the cocaine was initially made available to them.
After their initial positive outcry, the only sounds the rats emitted for the rest of the drug binge were low-pitched cries associated with negative emotions when the rats’ drug levels ebbed.
The rats’ only positive emoting happened during the first half hour to 40 minutes of the study. As long as the drug levels remained somewhat constant, the rats were silent. The researchers described this as a collision of negative and positive emotions. What that said to West and Barker was that drug abuse cycles may be driven as much, if not more, by a desire to escape negative feelings than by the pursuit of positive ones.
It’s important to identify drug use triggers so treatment can be more successful. Human research is useful but people self-reporting aren’t completely reliable while lab animals respond without fail. If lab rats show negative emotions as a trigger for drug use, then it’s likely true for humans too.
Addiction counselors can help clients be aware of situations where negative emotions may result and recognize them as a potential danger.
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