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Maia Szalavitz Maia Szalavitz

Most of Us Still Don’t Get It: Addiction Is a Learning Disorder

Addiction is not about our brains being "hijacked" by drugs or experiences—it's about learned patterns of behavior. Our inability to understand this leads to no end of absurdities.

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"Calves Heads and Brains, or: A Phrenological Lecture," London, 1982 Photo via

“Calves Heads and Brains, or: A Phrenological Lecture,” London, 1826 Photo via

Sex, food, shopping, the Internet, video games—all of these activities are being studied by neuroscientists, which frequently leads to headlines like “Oreos May Be As Addictive As Cocaine” and “Brain Activity of Sex Addicts Similar to That of Drug Addicts.”

These stories carry the very strange implication that our brains have areas “for” drug addiction that can be “hijacked” by experiences like sex, junk food and MILF porn. Shockingly, kids today with their Tinder and Grindr and nomophobia are misusing the regions nature gave us to allow us to get hooked on wholesome pleasures like heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine.

Of course, put that way, these claims sound completely absurd. Evolution didn’t provide us with brain circuitry dedicated to alcoholism and other drug addictions—it gave us brain networks that motivate us to seek pleasure and avoid pain in ways that promote survival and reproduction. To understand addiction, we’ve got to stop falling for arguments that obscure this truth and make unsound claims about brain changes that cannot tell us anything about its real nature.

This means that any study that says it shows that something is addictive because the stuff “lights up” the same brain areas seen in addiction is tautological. Anything that provides pleasure or certain types of stress relief will activate these regions. If it doesn’t activate these areas, it can’t be perceived as pleasant, desirable or comforting.

If you image the brain of a musician hitting the perfect note, a coder getting sudden insight on a complex problem, a father watching his child take her first step, you will see some of these areas go wild. That means these folks are experiencing joy: It doesn’t tell us that F sharp, a particular line of code or baby steps are “addictive.” Simply seeing activation in the brain’s pleasure and desire circuitry doesn’t reveal addiction.

In fact, despite hundreds of millions of dollars spent on neuroimaging research, we still don’t have a scan that can reliably separate addicted people from casual drug users or accurately predict relapse. Some studies have suggested that this may be possible but none have found a replicable diagnostic scan, even though some clinicians market the use of scanners in treatment.

Despite hundreds of millions of dollars spent on neuroimaging research, we still don’t have a scan that can reliably separate addicted people from casual drug users.

Moreover, recent sex and food addiction research showing similar alterations to those seen in drug addictions strikes at the heart of arguments made about the uniquely addictive nature of psychoactive chemicals. For example, on the website of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a section on the “science of addiction” explains that “addiction is considered a brain disease because drugs change the brain.” But this idea—first promoted heavily by the former head of NIDA, Alan Leshner—isn’t the whole story.

All experience changes the brain—it has to, in order to leave a mark on memory. If experience didn’t alter us, we couldn’t perceive, recall or react to it. So, simply changing the brain doesn’t make addiction a disease because not all changes are pathological. In order to use brain scans to prove addiction is a disease, you’d have to show changes that are only seen in addicted people, that occur in all cases of addiction and that predict relapse and recovery. No one has yet done this.

Secondly, if you can be addicted to activities like sex, gambling and the Internet—which do not directly chemically alter the brain—how can they be addictive, if addiction is caused by drug-related brain changes?

Researchers long argued that the pharmacology of particular drugs is what makes them addictive—that, say, cocaine’s alterations in the dopamine system cause a worse addiction than sex or food do because the drug directly affects the way the brain handles that chemical. But since sex and food only affect these chemicals naturally—and can create compulsive behavior that’s just as hard for some people to quit—why should we see cocaine differently?

Of course, none of this is to say that addiction isn’t a medical disorder or that addicted people shouldn’t be treated with compassion. What it does show, I believe, is that addiction is a learning disorder, a condition where a system designed to motivate us to engage in activities helpful to survival and reproduction develops abnormally and goes awry. While this theory is implicitly accepted or stated outright in much of today’s neuroscience research on addiction—and it runs through specific theories of addiction, including theories as varied as those of Stanton Peele, George Koob, current NIDA head Nora Volkow and Kent Berridge—its implications are not well understood by many treatment providers and the public. Instead, addiction is a seen as a “chronic, progressive disease,” which can only remit or worsen and which pretty much affects all addicted people in the same way.

Addiction is a learning disorder, a condition where a system designed to motivate us to engage in activities helpful to survival and reproduction develops abnormally and goes awry.

But the system that goes wrong in addiction is designed to make us persist despite negative consequences: If we didn’t have such a mechanism, we’d never push through the difficulties that characterize both love and parenting. Unfortunately when this motivational network gets channeled toward an activity that is destructive to our life’s prospects, it becomes dangerous.

Neuroscience can help us better understand this circuitry. However, the fact that non-drug addictions exist shows that drugs are neither necessary nor sufficient to “hijack” it.

What this means is that addiction isn’t simply a response to a drug or an experience—it is a learned pattern of behavior that involves the use of soothing or pleasant activities for a purpose like coping with stress. This is why simple exposure to a drug cannot cause addiction: The exposure must occur in a context where the person finds the experience pleasant and/or useful and must be deliberately repeated until the brain shifts its processing of the experience from deliberate and intentional to automatic and habitual.

This is also why pain patients cannot be “made addicted” by their doctors. In order to develop an addiction, you have to repeatedly take the drug for emotional relief to the point where it feels as though you can’t live without it. That doesn’t happen when you take a drug as prescribed in a regular pattern—it can only happen when you start taking doses early or take extra when you feel a need to deal with issues other than pain. Until your brain learns that the drug is critical to your emotional stability, addiction cannot be established and this learning starts with voluntary choices. To put it bluntly, if I kidnap you, tie you down and shoot you up with heroin for two months, I can create physical dependence and withdrawal symptoms—but only if you go out and cop after I free you will you actually become an addict.

Again, this doesn’t mean that people who voluntarily make those choices don’t have biological, genetic or environmental reasons that make them more vulnerable and perhaps less culpable—but it does mean that addiction can’t happen without your own will becoming involved. It also means that babies can’t be “born addicted.” Even if they suffer withdrawal after being exposed in utero, they haven’t engaged in the crucial learning pattern that shows them that the drug equals relief and they can hardly go out and seek more despite negative consequences.

Addiction—whether to sex, drugs or rock & roll—is a disorder of learning. It’s not a disorder of hedonism or selfishness and it’s not a sign of “character defects.” This learning, of course, involves the brain—but because learning is involved, cultural, social and environmental factors are critical in shaping it.

If we want to get beyond “Is Sex Addictive?” and “Crack vs. Junk Food: Which Is Worse?” we’ve got to recognize that we’ve been asking the wrong questions. The real issue is what purpose does addictive behavior serve and how can it be replaced with more productive and healthy pursuits—not how can we stop the demon drug or activity of the month. We’ve been doing the equivalent of trying to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder by banning hand sanitizer when what we really need to understand is why and how obsessions and compulsions develop in particular people.

Maia Szalavitz is one of the nation’s leading neuroscience and addiction journalists, and a columnist at She has contributed to TimeThe New York TimesScientific American MindThe Washington Post and many other publications. She has also published five books, including Help at Any Cost: How the Troubled-Teen Industry Cons Parents and Hurts Kids (Riverhead, 2006), and is currently finishing her sixth, Unbroken Brain, which examines why seeing addiction as a developmental or learning disorder can help us better understand, prevent and treat it. Her last column for was about the 10 ways that addiction in America is different from the rest of the world.


44 comments on “Most of Us Still Don’t Get It: Addiction Is a Learning Disorder

    Howard Josepher

    Excellent article. Addiction is a learning disorder that we choose to create by habitual use. But what about that first high Maia? Many of us with personal experience with drug addiction know we were chasing that first high. It was a profound, life altering experience. You can’t become addicted by trying a drug one time but the experience tells you what is possible if you take the substance.

      Gisli Einarsson

      Chasing the first “high” is a very conscious process and easily understood. What is more difficult to understand is that since subsequent “highs” will not match the first one, why continue down the road of diminished dividends? Drug addicts end up in a place where no sane person would perceive true enjoyment. Why can some people get off this slippery slope and others not?

  1. Shaun Shelly
    Shaun Shelly

    This totally aligns with my thinking. I have laid out a challenge to many of my colleagues: Please name one brain change that is the exclusive domain of addiction. There is NONE! Addiction is an adaptive process that works on feed forward and feedback systems that are used in all forms of learning and adaption. Second challenge: Please name one long-term brain change that can be considered “damage” or “disease” that is attributable to addiction. Again there is NONE.

    The myopic world of addiction treatment has marveled at brain scans and behaviours that they regard as their exclusive domain. These are all human conditions, and we need to understand them in the wider context, as extensions and manifestations of normal changes and behaviours in abnormal conditions. I believe that these constant references to “xyz behaviour being like addiction” are exposing the tautology that has dominated the field for so long.

    When we conceive addiction as an adaptive process, we need to then look deeper, and understand why we are adapting – and we see then that it is often due to psychodynamic reasons, such as Alexander’s well reasoned belief that addiction is rooted, both on an individual and population level, in an attempt to resolve psychosocial dislocation.

    This may all seem arbitrary, but this view will benefit those seeking help with addiction by informing new treatment modalities that help patients develop and learn new pathways, both neurologically and in their lives. It will also help debunk many of the myths that often mislead the patient and result in iatrogenic consequences.

    Ultimately it will help the treatment field view those with addictive disorders not as “addicts”, but as people, who given the right treatment and circumstances, can develop healthier relationships, with themselves, others and drugs and behaviours, and thereby find full recovery.

    James Patrick Murphy, MD, MMM

    I’ve experienced pleasure, but I am not an addict – even though I could behave like an addict if I chose to.

    And I’ve been depressed, but I don’t suffer from chronic depression – even though I could mope around looking depressed if I chose to.

    There are many unknown and gray areas regarding the cause of addiction. But without question addict brains exhibit abnormal chemical activities not seen in non-addicts. And there are multiple chemicals involved – like dopamine, glutamate, and endogenous opioids.

    Addicts, as well as the chronically depressed, have disorders of brain chemistry. To say otherwise is simplistic, sensational, and ignores decades of research.

    • Shaun Shelly
      Shaun Shelly

      James, nobody is saying that it is not a disorder ( a behavioural anomaly) as in that the behaviours of those who suffer addictive disorders sit on the extreme edge of a bell-curve of behavioural traits. Of course it is complex, involving pathways, cascades and circuits – but this is the same with any adaptive process.

      To describe addictive disorders in a reductionist fashion as a disease (in the narrow definition of the word), as life-long, as progressive, has no supporting data.


        Thank you Shaun. A voice of reason in a world of defensive anecdotal dogma.

    Joseph Colvin

    Can either of you two get to Walmart and back?


    Thanks for the site ~


    …so that means that being mean, stupid, bigoted and uninformed early in life conditions you to behave & vote republiklan?


      Sounds like you’re speaking from personal experience…

    Mark Willenbring, MD

    The problem is that the arguments are circular. Addiction isn’t JUST a brain disorder, learning disorder, social disorder or genomic disorder. As Ken Kendler has pointed out, if we want to get really reductionistic, it’s all particle physics, but that doesn’t make addiction JUST a particle physics disorder. Learning and memory play important roles, and of course they cannot be “disordered” without concomitant “disorder” in brain anatomy and physiology, genomic processes, social processes. These are levels of analysis of one single thing. Again from Ken Kendler, the important thing is: at what level of analysis will an intervention alter the system in the direction desired?

      Maia Szalavitz

      Mark, I think that learning disorder encompasses “biopsychosocial”— because you learn in the context of culture, relationships, psychology, and biology (which includes genetics, epigenetics, etc).

      Learning disorder is not reductionist the way “chronic progressive brain disease” and it incorporates heterogeneity because learning is highly dependent on context, biology, pharmacology, sociology, culture, etc. Learning is also developmentally sensitive, which addiction clearly also is.

      My entire argument is basically that if you reduce addiction to *just* biology or *just* culture or *just* any one piece, you will miss its essence. But you’ll have to wait for the book for that ;-)

      • Shaun Shelly
        Shaun Shelly

        Interestingly I was looking at some preliminary data on a study which is looking at the effects of cognitive training focusing on the DLPFC and the effects on addiction treatment. This study is still in its early stages, but i think we may see that such training may encourage neural plasticity and help develop/improve top-down control.

          John shelton

          AA is really cognitive therapy.

          • Shaun Shelly
            Shaun Shelly

            Firstly, cognitive training and cognitive therapy are two very different things. Secondly, although 12 step programs may have elements that look similar to CBT, they are certainly not CBT.

            James Morris

            AA varies hugely. Some might be more focused around Cognitive approaches but rather like addiction, its far more varied and complex than just one thing.

    Terry Donohue

    Claiming a baby or an individual taking prescribed medication is not or cannot become addicted is not only wrong but reckless. Ask the mother of an addicted child or the thousands of pain pill addicts who turn to heroin.

      Maia Szalavitz

      Read the article: babies and pain patients can become physically dependent and the latter can become addicted. But physical dependence and addiction is not the same thing— and this is why the leading experts on drug exposed babies *avoid* the term addiction!!!!

    Jannik Lindquist

    Great article. In my opinion, it is crystal clear that “internet addiction” is really a form of obsession. Browsing through lots of notifications is not pleasant but we do it anyway because we desperately hope to find just a little bit of meaning on the web. I do think that the article overlooks the extent of behavioral engineering we are exposed to from companies trying to earn money on us, though. All marketing is promising answers and meaning and we take the bait repeatedly. That is not a learning disorder 


      Who is “we?”


      lol Jannik

      Let’s just call that Madison Avenue Conditioning Disorder …

      Would you like to Supersize that?

    A Baldo

    I lost 160 lbs by diet and exercise and have kept it off for 4.5 years. This theory fits well with my personal experience and the literature on weight loss maintenance.

    “The real issue is what purpose does addictive behavior serve and how can it be replaced with more productive and healthy pursuits”

    Unhealthy pursuits can be replaced by the same mechanism as they were adopted in the first place. By repetition of healthy pursuits.

    But that is tedious and at times difficult. There is no glamor in keeping weight off. There is tremendous pull to fall back into old familiar habits of self medication. I suspect that is why relapse is so common.

    This theory may explain why the likelihood of relapse decreases over time.

    With weight loss about 80-95% gain it back within the first 1-2 years (depending on the study and your definition of regain). After 2 years of maintenance about 50% keep it off. After 5 years of maintenance about 80% keep it off.

    As someone invested in wanting to keep it off I choose to believe that weight maintenance depends on a set of learned behaviors and that I’m not even close to really maintaining until I’ve kept it off for at least 5 years.

    This is why I built a maintenance anniversaries page and try to emphasize a long term view of keeping it off.

    It is also why I built a Big Page of Links to collect resources that might help us continue learning how to maintain.

    It will be 5 years this coming January for me and although this project will probably require vigilance for the rest of my life, hopefully the patterns and habits I’ve been building will be familiar enough to help get me over the humps or back on the bandwagon when I slip.


    Finally! I always thought I was different, but I see now my allergy to redwood was simply learned behavior. I experience nothing out of the norm from other woods like Fir or Oak, but my body goes nuts whenever I get a splinter from redwood. I swell up then and the site quickly gets infected. Now I know everyone reacts the same way as I do and we are all identical when it comes to how we respond to alcohol drugs and redwood.
    Thanks Maia for generalizing and reducing this subject to it’s lowest level, done as always in your very special way.


      Spoken like a true religionist Jim.

      Yes, yes, I kinow I don’t know what I’m talking about and you are an “expert.”



      Well played.

      Yep, I guess we can just ignore all those pesky things like genetic predispositions.

      Got to be one of the dumbest articles I’ve read on the subject, and I’ve read some pretty dumb ones.

      • Shaun Shelly
        Shaun Shelly

        this article does not ignore things like genetic predispositions. There are those that have various predispositions to better being able to learn than others.

          Marc Lewis

          Hi Shaun! Fancy meeting you here. Clearly you and I agree with the logic of Maia’s position. And I see from your other comments, below, that you’ve gotten into some hefty debates with her detractors.

          But all of this really comes down to two fundamental images of addiction: the drooling crack addict snatching purses from little old ladies vs. the “ah shit” of the teen being told to get off the internet.

          There is indeed a world of difference here. And those of us who see addiction as a kind of learning have to deal with the whole spectrum, from one extreme to the other. You have advocated a stage model of addiction and I think that makes a lot of sense. (For others, see Shaun’s excellent addiction newsletter: These stages of addiction also happen to correspond with a cascade of brain changes that reliably occur over time. Not surprising, perhaps, but, as Maia also suggests, the neuroscience of addiction can help us flesh out this picture and help us understand, in a lot more detail, the different kinds of learning that we humans engage in.


    Oreos are as addictive as cocaine, because cocaine isn’t addictive – it’s compulsive. Opiates are addictive. I think it would be very helpful if people, especially those people who do studies, (or journalism), for a living, understood this distinction. The word “addictive” is meaningless if it treats ice cream and heroin as the same kind of problem.
    Another question worth asking is: Is addiction per se (the opiate kind) necessarily bad? If, as is the case with opiates, the drug itself doesn’t cause any harm, what exactly is the problem? If you eliminate the problems created by prohibition, (as a suboxone prescription and insurance does), it seems to me that there’s nothing left but moral disapproval. Maybe we should stop treating (true) addiction as a medical problem, and focus our attention on the actual source of the problems – prohibition.

    Addicted to facts

    This article points out some significant problems in our understanding of addiction, and, inadvertently, a few of the problems in journalism. Standards have fallen, but sources still are a requirement.

    Dr. Murphy has it right for all the reasons he mentions. Sudon’t does too.

    Science journalists are most valuable when they stick to reporting what science is able to confirm, not what they think makes sense because science has not yet confirmed otherwise.

  2. Kenneth Anderson
    Kenneth Anderson

    I have always wondered why we never see a television show where the villain ties up the hero in a basement for months and gets him addicted to cigarettes. After all, we know that cigarettes are more addictive than heroin.

    William Skaggs

    This article seems to be saying that there is nothing special about drugs like cocaine and heroin — no special properties that make them more addictive than other substances. Perhaps that message was not intended: at any rate it’s quite wrong. Those drugs are highly addictive because they hijack — yes, *hijack* — the brain’s internal mechanisms for learning. When the system works properly, those mechanisms are activated as a consequence of pleasure or suffering, but drugs like cocaine and heroin bypass the pleasure/pain systems and activate the learning systems directly. That’s why those particular drugs are particularly addictive.

    Maia Szalavitz

    Except that only about 5-20% of people who take cocaine or heroin recreationally become addicted. See, for example:

    Yes, cocaine is more addictive than marijuana, but food may be more addictive than either, given our obesity rates. So this “hijacking” if it occurs, only occurs in a minority of people and may be more common with natural rewards than with chemical ones or at the very least, does not affect the vast majority of those who try recreational drugs. That minority, is predisposed to getting this learning disorder for biological, psychological, cultural, etc. reasons in a wide variety of combinations.

    This is why “brain hijacking” is not an especially useful explanation: it does not tell us *why* certain people get in trouble. And it doesn’t account for the fact that addicts don’t have no free will, they have fluctuating impairments of control, which isn’t exactly what is conjured up by the hijacking metaphor.

    • Shaun Shelly
      Shaun Shelly

      As you well know, but many iother commentators appear not to, dependence potential and addiction potential are different things. Heroin has a high propensity for the forming of dependence, which complicates matters if you also happen to be addicted to it. Some drugs may lend themselves to being slightly more “addictive” than other activities due to direct action on specific circuits (Phasic release of dopamine for example). However, as Bruce Alexander points out, the majority of behaviours that can be perceived as addictive have nothing to do with drugs.

      Drugs alone are not enough to explain addiction – I think you and Carl Hart will have something to say about this in your new book. Almost any activity can become addictive – it is the relationship (or the relational need that is met) with that activity or substance that determines whether we become addicted or not. And if we become addicted the same areas of the brain will become involved.

      So to say that sex addiction, for example, lights up the same areas of the brain as cocaine addiction is tautology.


        Physical dependence, aka neurophysiological adaptation, is very different from addiction. For example, the body can become physically dependent on oxygen (tank) if a person is say, hypoxic, but that doesn’t mean they’re now an addict. That ppl can become physically dependent on opiates, doesn’t inherently mean they’re now all of the sudden an addict. Addiction & physical dependence are two entirely different things. Endogenous & exogenous chemicals must have their counterparts; behaviorally, all instincts have an addiction potential but only in those whose brain’s are genetically built to be addicted -only about 10% of the population. All others can use with impunity. The hi-jacked brain myth cannot account for these facts. Its like this:
        BRAIN DISEASE (genetic)
        1. Addiction (symptom)
        2. Decision making disasters (symptom)
        3. Evaluation mistakes of self & others (symptom)
        The hi-jacked brain hypothesis mislabels addiction as a disease rather than a symptom. This “mistake” has cost many people their lives, in many different ways. Until this gets sorted out, this mess will continue unabated. The drug war is based on this incorrect premise. Wrong premise = wrong conclusions.


    The main issue is people who have read some books, looked at some brain scans and spoken to a few fcuk’d up addicts who wouldn’t know there own mind or the truth if it bit them on the arse allowing their EGO to influence them into knowing what they are talking about. I don’t care how many exams you sat, time you spent reading books or writing papers , unless you have experienced addiction first hand then you are merely offering an opinion formed and based on other people’s “opinions”. Go take some heroin, snort some OxyContin or smoke some meth if you want to be recognised as anything other than somebody who’s ego has been massaged by academia and guides everything they say. Academia is no match for personal experience and never will be . I have taken OxyContin and morphine for prolonged periods of time as well as cocaine and cannabis in addition to many other legal and illegal drugs and I have only ever read one book on the subject that hit the nail right on the head, from prolonged personal experience I can tell you its the ” The cult of pharmacology” by Richard DeGrandpree , if you are on any other pathway to trying to understand addiction you need to go back to the drawing board.

    • Shaun Shelly
      Shaun Shelly

      Paul, personal experience makes it far more difficult to view addiction objectively. It can lead one to believe that one’s own experience is representative of the entire population, which it is obviously not. The whole purpose of qualitative and quantitative surveys is to gain greater understanding of the whole and eliminate bias. Your comment is an expression of your own ego.

      Having said that, my many years of practical and first hand research of drug addiction is something I am constantly aware of, and I am careful not to let it cloud the research and work I am doing.

    Maia Szalavitz

    Um, I shot cocaine and heroin dozens of times a day for about 3 years in my 20s, went to rehab and was on methadone for a bit, do you think I count as someone with personal experience with addiction?

    But while personal experience can guide you through the data, if you don’t know the data, you are blind and projecting your own limited experience onto everyone else. There are many people with no personal experience of addiction who understand it just as well as I do; there are also many more with personal experience of it who have no real knowledge of addiction and yet see themselves as experts simply due to their lives. That’s like me saying I could do brain surgery because I had brain surgery once. It’s nuts

    Maia Szalavitz

    Also, drugs do not *hijack* the reward system— or if they do, they do it very badly and selectively, given that only a small proportion of users become addicted. This means they are not sufficient, by themselves, to cause addiction.

    Moreover, because you can get addicted to food or gambling, this system can be “hijacked” without drugs. So yes, drugs are neither necessary nor sufficient to cause addiction.

    And when addiction does *affect* pleasure and motivational systems, hijacking is not a good word for what it does. You don’t shoot up in front of the cops, you do lots of planned, goal-directed, not impulsive behavior to engage in your compulsive use. This is a shift in your motivation, not a complete loss of free will.

    And that shift can come from certain behavior patterns (gambling), not just from a substance.

    Btw, compulsion and addiction are not actually different: addiction is compulsive use of a substance or engaging in an activity compulsively despite negative consequences, by its DSM definition. It activates the same circuitry seen in OCD and the distinctions between the two (I’ve had both) are pretty artificial. Physical dependence is something different entirely: you can be physically dependent on insulin or blood pressure medications, but they are not “addictive” and you can be addicted without physical dependence (cocaine, for example, makes you very irritable when you quit, but you aren’t physically ill).

    If you think cocaine addiction or meth addiction isn’t compulsion, you have probably never been addicted to either or have little experience with those who have been.

    Berry Muhl

    “This means that any study that says it shows that something is addictive because the stuff “lights up” the same brain areas seen in addiction is tautological. Anything that provides pleasure or certain types of stress relief will activate these regions.”

    I’m not sure I agree. Or rather, while it’s basically correct, it doesn’t go far enough.

    Addiction *is* part of human nature. It’s in our nature to become addicted to certain activities. Sex, for instance, is so highly-sought precisely because it is addictive, and it is addictive precisely because it is so pleasurable. And it’s so pleasurable precisely because it’s so necessary, despite being so energy-intensive and risky. Addiction is the mechanism that ensures reproductive success. If there wasn’t an orgasm awaiting us at the end, much fewer of us would engage in it on anything approaching a regular basis.

    What we call “sex addiction” is more than just a sex addition; it’s a *pathological* sex addiction, one that makes unreasonable demands on our time and social lives. This is one reason why civilization in general–by way of imposing moral structure on its participants–discourages sexual activity in those too young and immature to manage themselves properly in a world rife with opportunities for sexual conduct. Sluts (for lack of a more succinct word) aren’t made in adulthood; sluts are what happen when kids have sex too early and too often.

    Chemical addictions may well make use of similar neurological wiring, by way of imposing a similarly pleasurable experience on us. Things are habit forming not simply because they’re pleasurable, but because the brain is wired in such a way as to reinforce actions that are pleasurable. Pleasure exists solely for purposes of reinforcing behaviors that are beneficial, and the “hijacking” mentioned in the article is simply an accidental displacement that takes place when behaviors *other than* sex offer a similar degree of pleasure.

    So while I agree that addiction isn’t fundamentally a problem of “drug-related brain changes,” it is, always and everywhere, a function of “brain changes” in general. Drugs aren’t the only things that change the brain. The brain is changed by experience…that’s its nature.


    To me the definition of addiction is the use of a substance which creates physical withdrawal symptoms when removed.

    If it doesn’t cause physiological withdrawal symptoms – to me it is not an addiction.

    They have taken too many liberties with the word “addiction”.


    Interesting approach.

    Many AAers do not really see using drugs/alcohol as the problem – but a symptom to a different problem – of self reliance gone bad.

    The people I know in AA for many years do not go simply so they do not pick up drugs, but they go because the program helps them achieve emotional sobriety and an outlook on life that is completely different than the one that got them into the drug problem in the first place.

    You just may have really really really liked drugs, but had a good constitution of character underneath… And figured out other ways of dealing with negative self talk, and understanding that is all it is.


    I hypothesize and synthesize from current human and animal studies an evolution-derived neurological mechanism for instinct decision-making and discuss the addiction ramifications of genetic diversity within this system. In a subgroup of organisms (people and other animals) with genetically determined critically low activity of the evaluator (the Feel O.K. System) of this mechanism, addictions of all kinds are inexorable as a result of unconscious attempts to raise the activity of this system. These addictions are derived from the instincts that intrinsically raise the activity of this system via reinforcing neurotransmitters and extrinsic chemical analogues of these same neurotransmitters (drugs) that similarly raise the activity of this system. Thus, addictions are “unintended” consequences of genetic variation of the decision-making apparatus and are all either instinct (behavioral addictions) or neurotransmitter substitute (drug) derived. The adaptive advantages of genetic diversity within this system during the era of evolutionary adaptation is discussed. Also discussed is the utility of this hypothesis for addiction related research, recovery, and public policy changes.


      see hypoism… Addiction is an unintended consequence of evolution


    I enjoy what you guys are usually up too. This sort of clever work and
    reporting! Keep up the terrific works guys I’ve included you guys to my personal blogroll.

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