Yesterday, the New York Times ran an in-depth profile of Nora Volkow, the neuroscientist in charge of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. In the accompanying video, Volkow talks about the psychology and physiology behind addiction.
According to Volkow, the impulse that drives one person to buy a chocolate bar from a bucket sitting at a checkout counter, even when she doesn't really want a chocolate bar, may be similar to the way an addict returns time and again to a substance, behavior, or activity even when he knows he shouldn't, really doesn't want to, or has vowed to steer clear. Good intentions aside, breaking patterns of addiction can be extremely difficult, and when it comes to substance addiction, the substance affects the dopamine levels in the brain—a high that addicts want to repeat.
Increased dopamine levels, alone, however, don't explain addiction. One time, in and of itself, doesn't create addiction. According to the New York Times article, researchers suggest that genetics play a role, as do changes in the brain that result from patterns of addiction.
If you are interested in human psychology, physiology, or neuroscience, you can use a bag of marshmallows, a bell, and a group of friends to explore similar issues of human behavior in the Enjoy It Now... Or Enjoy It Later? Understanding Delayed Gratification, project. Would you rather have one marshmallow now or two in 15 minutes? You might think you want two. But can you hold out? Don't like marshmallows? Substitute a favorite treat and put it to the test.