Re-Thinking Addiction

Addicts form thoughts in a fundamentally different way than those without addictions, according to a report published in today's Journal of Neuroscience. The study, led by scientists at the University of North Carolina and the University of California, compared the brain activity of recovering alcoholics and non-addicts. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), they recorded neural activity of both groups while they made a hypothetical financial decision: Less money now or more later? The impulsive "now" option, one demarcated by increased activity in certain brain sites, was chosen by the recovering addicts three times more often than by others. The ones who decided to hold off, however, had more activity in their orbital frontal cortices—the "brakes" area of the brain, which allows us to consider future consequences and weigh them against short-term gain.

The study, the first to identify such differentiation in brain activity, could be the key to discovering viable treatments for addiction.—Abby Seiff