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Cognitive Enhancers - New Tools in Addiction Recovery

     Treat drug addiction with another drug? It may not seem sensible at first, but medical science suggests that cognitive enhancing drugs might be the panacea addicts need to overcome the real and physical obstacles they encounter on the path to recovery.

Addiction and the Brain

According to several brain-imaging studies of those suffering from addiction, addictive substances such as cocaine and heroin essentially hijack the areas of the brain responsible for rewarding, driving, motivating, and learning. Over time, drug abuse produces such extensive changes in the brain that the addict no longer derives pleasure from anything except the addictive substance. Additionally, experts theorize that the brain actually processes drug-seeking behavior as imperative, while other activities that once produced significant pleasure (such as food and sex) are processed as less important. With these substantial changes in the brain, it really is no surprise that recovery from drug addiction is such a difficult journey fraught with many failures. Addiction is definitely not a case of simply lacking willpower, as many once believed.

That's the bad news. The good news is that recent research suggests that cognitive enhancing drugs may actually turn some of these negative brain changes around.

Role of Cognitive Enhancers

Cognitive enhancing drugs include Ritalin (methylphenidate), Concerta (an extended-release form of methylphenidate) Adderall (amphetamine and dextroamphetamine), and Provigil (modafinil).

Typically prescribed to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, cognitive enhancing drugs stimulate the prefrontal cortex of the brain - the very area responsible for making reasonable, rational choices, something that drugs addicts find very difficult to do, at least when it comes to drug-taking behavior.

It's probably no coincidence that ADHD, the very condition for which cognitive enhancers were designed to treat, has a high prevalence among those with addiction problems. Those with ADHD often have a tendency to act compulsively without reasoning or thinking things through. This kind of propensity can make people vulnerable to drug and alcohol abuse. In such individuals, cognitive enhancers can play a double role - both enhancing the learning and reasoning that has been hampered by drug use and treating the underlying impulsiveness that some addicts struggle with their whole lives.

Learning as Part of Recovery

In essence, drug addiction can be seen as a learning failure: addicts have learned to make self-destructive choices at the expense of healthier, more appropriate ones. For that reason, a key component of rehab is cognitive behavior therapy. In this type of therapy, unhealthy behaviors such as drug and alcohol abuse in response to daily stress and the belief that they simply cannot live without their drug of choice are "unlearned". At the same time, healthier and more appropriate behaviors are learned in their place. For instance, someone who self-medicates with alcohol to reduce anxiety will unlearn that behavior and learn healthier coping methods such as exercise, deep breathing, or yoga instead. His belief that he cannot, for instance, get through a stressful family dinner without drinking will be challenged as he learns new tools to cope with difficult and uncomfortable situations.

Cognitive enhancers also improve focus and concentration, both key components of learning. Therefore there is a great chance that cognitive enhancers will help drug addicts learn the lessons needed to lead a happier, sober life.

Applying Science to Real Life

Rehabilitation facilities that treat drug and alcohol abuse are seriously looking at cognitive enhancers as viable tools to combat addiction. The hope is that cognitive enhancers used in conjunction with traditional treatment methods such as behavior modification and psychotherapy will improve overall recovery success rates. If proven effective, cognitive enhancers can benefit millions on the difficult journey to permanently overcome their addictions.

Article Source:

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Posted on 2009-11-04, By: *

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