We know that stress can take a toll on our bodies, but it also affects our brain.
I’ve written about how it affects memory and the hippocampus.
Research is now suggesting that stress also alters how we learn. This has ramifications for addiction and anything involved in the negative aspects of neuroplasticity.
A recent review article published in Current Directions in Psychological Science by University of Southern California researcher Mara Mather, PhD, suggests that stress alters our decision-making abilities.
Specifically, when under stress, dopamine levels in the brain’s pleasure circuit change in such a way that people overemphasize remembered rewards and de-emphasize punishments or detractions from a certain action.
Can you see how this would affect addiction?
This could result in an addict remembering that [seemingly] lovely drug high without really thinking about the low that follows.
The article actually sites a 2009 study which suggested that stress increases drug cravings and increases the possibility of relapse in drug addicts.
Our New Brain Science Webinar Series gets more into about addiction, learning, and changes in the brain, as well as ways to directly apply this new information with your patients.
Please share your thoughts below. How do you notice learning to be a part of the process of addiction?