Addiction to drugs, alcohol or compulsive behaviours are not only a destructive force but a brain disorder. When stimulants are at work in the brain, clear changes can be seen. Hidden inside these neurological changes is a complex neuro-psychological dependence.
“In reality physical dependence can be managed quite quickly. But then there’s psychological dependence, which is a much more complicated issue and that really is the key to long term relapse propensity.”
Professor Andrew Lawrence
Behavioural Neuroscientist Professor Andrew Lawrence at The Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health suggests that there are two elements to successfully combating addiction. One is physiological and the other psychological. His studies indicate that long-term success can be achieved by addressing the neuro-psychological issue that draws people to a relapse.
The research shows that a big factor in why relapse occurs is due to choice, however choice is far more complex and difficult to modify than the simplistic view of using sheer will. There could be neurological reasons why someone is psychologically prone to relapse.
As Professor Lawrence explains, the combination of cues and associations that trigger addictive responses are a variable force, for example “people will associate a particular time of day as being a time they have a cigarette, or if they have a coffee.” The behavioural response comes about due to a complex combination of biological, psychological and social triggers, but they all work in the same way on the brain.
Professor Lawrence has been looking at the links between what’s happening in the brain to drive behavioural and drug addiction relapses. He has found that in trials the use of neuropeptide, relaxin-3, interrupts the cycle of relapse and could have very positive implications for a more targeted approach to treatment of addiction, and other behavioural additions or mental illness.
In the studies on humans with cocaine addiction, his team have also found that they were able to “renormalise” participants’ neurological systems and reduce or stop addiction through he use of another derivative of amino acids, and readily available, N-acetylcysteine.
More study is needed but this evidence brings new hope to people who suffer from drug or negative behaviour dependence.