Neuroscientist Finds Direct Link Between Stimulus-Response Learning and Addiction

Could Stimulus Response Learning and Addiction be Connected?

dual diagnosisWe don’t have to be told that we engage in activities that bring us pleasure because naturally we all do that. In addiction, the pleasure seeking activities involve alcohol and/or a drug that gets us high. When you ask a cocaine or heroin user about their first experience using they will often describe their first high as something they’ve been chasing every since. Even in everyday life where addiction is not considered people will seek stimulus-response behaviors as a means to happiness. Exercise, eating, socializing, traveling, reading, writing, dancing, and playing games are forms of stimulus-response behaviors that we engage in. A neuroscientist at the Douglas Mental Health University Institute has established a direct link between stimulus-response learning and substance abuse.

The Science Daily reports:

“We rely on one of two strategies to navigate through our surroundings. One is called the spatial strategy, where we use visual cues and landmarks to develop cognitive maps that enable us to know where we are and how to get where we want to go. This process occurs in the hippocampus. The other is the stimulus-response strategy, which is a kind of auto-pilot: after traveling along the same route on a regular basis, we end up taking it out of habit. This process occurs in the striatum.

People who resort to stimulus-response learning have a more developed striatum and would consume more alcohol, tobacco or drugs. Factors such as routine, stress and reward-seeking behaviour also contribute to stimulating the striatum, at the expense of the hippocampus.

“The literature indicates that children engage in stimulus-response strategies from a very young age,” Véronique Bohbot explains. “Reward-seeking behavior in childhood, especially for immediate rewards like candy or playing action video games, stimulates the striatum and encourages stimulus-response strategies during navigation. This would predispose the child to drug seeking behaviour.”

Previous studies have shown that an atrophied hippocampus increases the risk of developing a mental illness such as schizophrenia, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder or Alzheimer’s disease.

Véronique Bohbot will present her research results on November 13 at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in San Diego, where she will talk about the importance of improving spatial navigation skills to maintain a balance and increase chances of a healthy cognition.”

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