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Brain Training as a New Treatment for Addictions

Sub­stance abuse can have dra­mat­ic con­se­quences on the brain and behav­ior. The tra­di­tion­al way of pre­vent­ing drug abuse is often edu­ca­tion. Aware­ness pro­grams do work with peo­ple who can pic­ture long-term reper­cus­sions of abus­ing drugs. Oth­er peo­ple, most often those vul­ner­a­ble to addic­tions, do not ben­e­fit from such pro­grams. It seems that they tend to deval­ue both rewards and pun­ish­ments that will hap­pen in the future, a behav­ior known as delay dis­count­ing. This leads them to opt for imme­di­ate rewards, such as those pro­vid­ed by drugs, and ignore future con­se­quences.

Would it be pos­si­ble then to train the brain of these peo­ple so that they show less delay dis­count­ing? Would that help them stay away from addic­tive sub­stances?

Delay dis­count­ing is a brain func­tion that involves the frontal lobes of the brain (behind the fore­head). It builds upon work­ing mem­o­ry, our men­tal work­space where infor­ma­tion nec­es­sary for the task at hand is hold and used.

Dr. Bikel and col­leagues thus designed a study in which stim­u­lants abusers par­tic­i­pat­ed in either a work­ing mem­o­ry train­ing or a con­trol train­ing. They found that work­ing mem­o­ry train­ing trig­gered a decrease in delay dis­count­ing. In oth­er words, work­ing mem­o­ry train­ing reduced the sub­stance abusers’ deval­u­a­tion of long-term rewards.

It is not known so far whether train­ing work­ing mem­o­ry would indeed help in reduc­ing the abuse itself but this is a very promis­ing study. It may open the door to new sub­stance abuse treat­ments, based on brain train­ing.

Relat­ed post: What is Work­ing Mem­o­ry? Can it Be Trained?

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As seen in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, BBC News, CNN, Reuters,  SharpBrains is an independent market research firm tracking how brain science can improve our health and our lives.

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