What Causes Risk-Taking Behavior in Drug Addicts?

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Risk-Taking Behavior in Drug AddictsDrug addicts were once thought to have behavioral problems; after all, they made the decision to use drugs, and therefore there is a problem with their choices. However, drug addiction is now considered a chronic brain disorder, because many drug addicts have chemical imbalances in their brains that influence their judgment, decision-making abilities, and self-control.

A new study published in the journal Psychopharmacology seeks to provide insight into what influences the behavior of drug addicts. The study found that drug users are strongly motivated to seek rewards, but they also have an impaired ability to change their behavior, and are not fulfilled once the desire has been met. These findings may be a key to breaking the cycle of addiction by addressing the link between regulating behavior and craving a drug in the first place.

When most people are presented with something they want, they will assess how realistic it is to achieve that goal, and adjust their expectations and actions accordingly. However, this system of self-regulation and assessment is damaged in substance abusers, which may lead to poor decision-making and risk-taking behavior.

For a non-drug user, a reward is something of value or a positive outcome; for a drug addict, a reward is often their next fix. The process can broken down further into three stages: how much someone desires a reward (reward anticipation), the likelihood of getting that reward based on the person’s actions (task monitoring), and the sense of achievement after they have the reward (reward consummation). The researchers thought that the behavioral and decision-making problems in drug addicts may stem from how they process reward anticipation and achievement.

The study included 23 cocaine users and 23 others without a history of drug use. The participants performed computer-based tasks to measure their reaction time—the researchers wanted to know how quickly the participants would press a button after seeing an “X” on a screen. The participants would receive a reward of points, or a penalty of losing points. Furthermore, the points were transferred into real-life gift cards, but the twist is this: all participants received the same level of success at the end of the game, and the same gift cards.

The participants were attached to electroencephalographs to record their brain activity, so that researchers could determine their responses during each stage. The researchers found that the cocaine users had a greater response in the reward anticipation areas; they were very motivated to achieve the reward. But despite this desire, the cocaine users had a reduced level of enjoyment upon receiving the reward, and failed to learn after making errors during the game. Problems with reward processing in the cocaine group were linked with anhedonia, according to a questionnaire. Anhedonia is the failure to experience pleasure from activities that most people enjoy.

The key takeaway here is whether the reward-processing problems in drug addicts were already present before taking drugs, or if the issue resulted from taking the drugs. If those problems were there before the addiction, they may be able to identify at-risk children before they start taking drugs.

All substance abusers can benefit from a dietary changes and taking certain supplements in order to replenish the body with much-needed nutrients. Drug abusers desperately need vegetables and fruit to improve their energy levels. The diet should essentially be whole-food based, and also contain beans, seeds, nuts, and some non-gluten grains and animal protein. They would also benefit from supplements such as a B-complex, a high-potency multivitamin, chromium, L-glutamine, milk thistle, vitamin C, and 50hydroxytrptophan (5-HTP).

Sources for Today’s Article:
Morie, K.P., et al., “Regulating task-monitoring systems in response to variable reward contingencies and outcomes in cocaine addicts,” Psychopharmacology, February 2016, doi:10.​1007/​s00213-015-4191-8.
“Study Sheds Lights on Source of Drug Addicts Risk-Taking Behavior,” University of Rochester Medical Center website, Feb. 10, 2016; https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/news/story/4499/study-sheds-light-on-source-of-drug-addicts-risk-taking-behavior.aspx.
Balch, J., et al., Prescription for Natural Cures: A Self-Care Guide for Treating Health Problems with Natural Remedies Including Diet, Nutrition, Supplements, and Other Holistic Methods (Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2004), 512–517.


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Jon Yaneff, CNP

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Jon Yaneff is a holistic nutritionist and health researcher with a background in journalism. After years of a hectic on-the-go, fast food-oriented lifestyle as a sports reporter, Jon knew his life needed a change. He began interviewing influential people in the health and wellness industry and incorporating beneficial health and wellness information into his own life. Jon’s passion for his health led him to the certified nutritional practitioner (CNP) program at the Institute of Holistic Nutrition. He graduated with first... Read Full Bio »