Rehabilitation from drug and alcohol addiction and even quitting smoking, are notoriously difficult pursuits. It is not uncommon to read about parents who cannot afford to feed their families, but who do not miss out on their daily pack of cigarettes. In this day and age, the very best rehabilitation programs have a 70 per cent relapse rate. Clearly, new approaches to addiction are required!
Reward- Based Learning Systems
The reason addictions can be so difficult to beat is the reward-based learning system, ingrained in the human brain since primitive times. In its most basic form, it comprises three elements: trigger, behavior, reward. Triggers are indulged and since the effect is positive, our brain stores this memory so we continue the same behavior in the future. In primitive times, this reward based system worked well to ensure people obtained food to survive yet it continues to govern the way our brain works today, even when food and drink are not scarce for many. All addictive substances (from cigarettes to alcohol) affect the part of the brain that reacts to these substances through the neurotransmitter, dopamine. Using addictive substances like cocaine and cigarettes, continues to feed a cycle that prompts reinforcement from these substances.