Motivation and the Brain-Refraining from Using Drugs

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What motivates a person has been an ongoing question for neuroscience and psychology as the two fields work hand-in-hand searching for answers. How is our behavior connected to personality, is there a motivational connection, what motivates one person and not another, and what other questions must be asked to gain insight to this ongoing topic. What affects a person’s motivation, their social interactions or thought process may be seen in the study of drug addiction.

The information presented throughout this paper will explain the brains functions and structures that are hindered or altered due to the many different drugs taken by an individual that were not prescribed or have been prescribed by their physician. What are the extrinsic and intrinsic motivators that help an individual refrain from using drugs, and the biological and environmental factors concerning their recovery will be addressed. Chronic substance abuse is linked to physical changes in the brain which has a vast impact on emotional and functional abilities.

Using neuroimaging for studying the brain has provided enough information to conclude that drugs dramatically change our brains structure after a period of time and affects our tolerance, cravings and withdrawal abilities including reactivating these symptoms or needs even after extended periods of none use. It is thought that the main reinforcer for drug use is the stimulus dopamine which creates a feeling of euphoria, in reality; chronic drug use decreases the production of dopamine according to neurochemical studies. The effect can be seen during the withdrawal and detoxification period.

The orbitofrontal cortex and cingulate gyrus which is part of the frontal regions of the brain are the affected areas which can cause dysfunction in the brains activity. Furthermore; during drug intoxication functional imaging case studies reveal that our frontal regions become activated highlighting our motivation, memory, cognitive control and reward system. In the beginning, a person tries a new drug either prescribed by their physician or as a way to experiment, be part of the crowd, or “have fun,” and in a worst case scenario, slipped in their drink.

It could be said that the person voluntarily takes the drug that is either in pill form, liquid drink or inserted via a needle into a vein or smoked. Over time and with consistency the brain functions are affected and the individual may begin to act or respond contrarily or irrationally. Normally it takes extrinsic motivation to help the addict, or at least motivated them to seek help when getting off of drugs. Motivation may be influenced by loved ones who are there to help and not judge.

In addition, the addict may need a treatment program (Leshner, 2007) that may be sponsored by their employer or as a free service offered to the public by the community or funded by the state. There may be additional motivators not mentioned however; the addict extrinsic motivators work the same way whether they seek treatment or are placed into treatment. These motivators may include the here and now in the addict’s life, past events or during their drug use highs and lows.

The addict’s motivation to refrain from drugs may include loss of family, friends, job, home, car, poor health and sexual abuse. Using a reward system or strong intrinsic motivators is known to have a higher success rate for the addict that is in some sort of recovery program, while encouragement is a strong promoter of internal motivation to the recovering addict. Someone with a more severe alcohol problem may display an internal motivation and look for a treatment program such as Alcohol Anonymous, or AA (alcoholism-guide. org).

Depending on the severity, the alcoholic’s own internal motivation may enhance their desire to seek help and influence their decision making that will lead them on their way to recovery. Denial is such a strong shield that admitting to being an alcoholic is usually the hardest step an alcoholic has to make. Understanding that addiction is behavioral and biological adds to the understanding of the onlooker even though they may have opposing views and see it as being one or the other. It can be said that drug addiction is a good example of biobehavioral disorder which includes behavioral and iological mechanisms.

According to (Leshner, 2007), ongoing research studies have discovered an enormous amount of cellular and molecular alterations in the brains structure that had been produced by the use of drugs or drug abuse and are common to chemical addictions which includes non-drugs such as pathological eating disorders. The addict’s environment in which he or she chooses to live or is unable to change due to financial difficulties, transportation or different circumstances plays a very special and personal role regarding their recovery (Westreich, 2007).

For instance someone that lives with an individual or others that continues to do drugs may find it too difficult to resist temptation or feel that they can “do it once and quit again. ” In addition, the early stages of recovery is very fragile for the addict, relapse is likely as they continue to have the same friends, coworkers or family members that continue to use drugs in their presents. Patterns or habits are not that easily broken and normally a person does not recognize the triggers such as having a cigarette with a cocktail or after a meal is known as classical conditioning.

One goes hand-in-hand without thought; it is the remembrances, the anticipation that is based on a person’s past experience. Known as cue-induced these cravings can continue for many years to come due to environmental factors even when drugs are not obtainable. To reduce the desire for drugs or environmental cues, the recovering addict needs to change their environment as well. Temptation is too powerful, social habits are hard to break and addicts will try to encourage drug use to obtain free drugs.

There are different studies that one could focus on however; drug addiction has so many different avenues that neuroscience and psychology fields can take us to understanding how our brain responds to these different substances. Our emotional state and physical states can be altered by one drug to the point to where we lose reality, the functioning and emotional states. Drugs have the power to change our memory, cognitive control and motivation.

We need extrinsic motivators as a means to get the addict into a treatment program prior to them losing everything, their home, loved ones, or acting out such as; child or spousal abuse. This would also include their physical wellbeing as drugs eventually take a toll on a person’s health including tooth decay. Encouragement goes a long way however; it is also met with the biological factors that can impair the addict’s ability to recover successfully.

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