Intervention: Anything But My Own Skin

Monday, October 4, 2010

Drug and alcohol memoirs: Research for the addictive personality

Here is evidence of a personality trait that appears to be programed for drugs and alcohol.  One is novelty seeking and the other is reward dependent
Individuals who posses a trait of novelty seeking may be more likely to become excited when exposed to novel stimuli as well as a tendency to explore the environment, accompanied with a drive to avoid monotony (Cloninger, 1987). A biological explanation of the characteristics seen in novelty seeking is a low level of dopamine (Cloninger, 1987). In order to compensate for the low level of dopamine, the individual may seek activities or substances that produce a high level of dopamine (Cloninger, 1987).

In a study involving animals, Bradberry, Guren, Berridge, and Roth (1991) used in vivo microdialysis to measure dopamine release in the nucleus accumbens and found animals with personality characteristics of novelty seeking had the greatest increase in dopamine when given an amphetamine. The same study was replicated, except using cocaine and the results were the same (Hooks, Colvin, Jumcos, & Justice, 1992).
A person with the reward dependence trait is purposed by Cloninger (1987) to be stubborn when it comes to the extinction of a behavior that has been rewarded in the past. Because a substance may produce an experience of positive affect, (i.e. a reward) an individual with this trait may be more likely to continue with the same behavior of using the substance. Also, reward dependent individuals may be highly sensitive to rewards like social approval (Cloninger, 1987).
To help clarify why a person has a trait of reward dependence, a biological explanation is of interest. An individual expressing reward dependent behaviors is thought to have a brain system that is more active to external stimulation and is less sensitive to irrelevant stimuli due to high sensitivity to norepinephrine (Segal & Bloom, 1976; Frith, Dowdy, Ferrier, & Crow, 1985). As a result, Cloninger (1987) hypothesized that these individuals will have a stronger conditioning to the feeling of strong rewards (e.g. the high of the substance), but will not remember the irrelevant side effects such as a hangover, a comedown, a headache, and so on. This cycle of feeling the high and forgetting the side effects is what may keep a person on a path of substance abuse and is thus termed reward dependent.
Evidence for the association of high sensitivity for rewarding experiences was seen when monkeys with a system more sensitive to norepinephrine demonstrated signs of a depressed state when not given ethanol, but had a greater increase in norepinephrine after given a small amount of ethanol compared to monkeys not possessing the highly sensitive system (Kraemer, Lake, Ebert, & McKinney, 1985; Kraemer, Ebert, Lake & McKinney, 1984).
Instead of using animals in their study, Wills, Sandy, and Shinar (1999) used 1,225 high school students and found a correlation between substance use, reward dependence, and novelty seeking. Findings indicated social reward dependence and novelty seeking to be positively related to substance use (Wills et al. 1999).
However, instead of using drugs alcohol one needs to use a form of a natural high, called FLOW activities:
Flow is a concept developed by Csikszentmihalyi (1990) as a way of improving an individual’s every day life. Flow is defined as a condition when people are completely occupied in an activity that they do not think about anything else, and as a result the experience becomes so enjoyable that the individual will partake in the activity at large costs just because they enjoy engaging in the activity (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990).  Examples of flow activities are public speaking, mountain climbing, intense exercise, a tennis match, a basketball game etc.  
In a study with 57 undergraduate students, Rogatko (2009) tested for a correlation between Flow and positive affect.  Findings of the study supported evidence for a correlation among positive affect and strong Flow activities.  In a different study findings supported evidence for participants reporting a high frequency of Flow activities to experience less boredom, less depression, and less anxiety than the other two groups (Ishimura & Kodama, 2009). The high frequency Flow group also reported the highest levels of relaxation and zest (Ishimura & Kodama, 2009).
A brain that is preprogramed for addiction is evident through the research in the beginning.  However, the brain is not craving drugs or alcohol, the brain is craving activities that produce a natural high via FLOW activities.  If someone with this personality trait will participate in three or more flow activities a day, the high from a drug or drink will never be as powerful as this natural high.  


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