Environment Key in Quitting Addictions
A new study by University of Guelph researchers reveals that environmental cues remain a key reason why people can’t cease addictive behavior.
Besides triggering the brain’s emotional and stimulus-response systems (“see smoking area, smoke, feel good”), environmental cues activate brain areas where memories are processed, according to the study.
Environment has been central to addiction recovery groups focusing on more modern addictive behavior, such as expressed in groups such as NoFap (a quitting porn/masturbation movement).
In the aforementioned group, cues such as aimlessly surfing the internet, or even seeing a laptop can trigger strong cravings similar to that of an alcoholic in a highly boozy atmosphere.
Prompting these memory processing systems of the brain makes it extra difficult to counter addiction, said psychology professor and study co-author Francesco Leri.
Published recently in the journal Learning and Memory, the study in laboratory rats could also have implications for how we treat addiction in humans.
Cocaine and nicotine alone were already known to promote long-term memory storage, yet this study shows that environmental cues associated with the effects of these drugs also affect the formation of memories in the brain.
“Stimuli in our environment such as buildings, objects and places are normally fairly innocuous,” said Leri. Contrasting those triggers with the “viciousness of addiction,” he added: “When they’re associated with drugs of abuse, they can become modifiers of memory function.”
That creates a double whammy effect where classic stimulus-response mechanisms are reinforced by the memory effects of environmental drug cues.