According to a recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, drug cravings can be caused by subconscious signals. The researchers showed images to individuals who were in addiction treatment for cocaine. These photos were only shown for 33 milliseconds before they changed. At that speed, people cannot be consciously aware of what they have seen.
However, the images that were related to drug abuse, like pictures of cocaine and crack pipes, caused a specific reaction in the patients’ brains. These images stimulated activity in the brain’s limbic system, which is related to rewards and emotions. The limbic system has previously been shown to be involved in craving and seeking drugs.
The cocaine photos stimulated an emotional response of drug craving in the patients without them even being aware of what they had seen. This helps to explain why addicts often don’t know why or when they begin to crave a drug.
The researchers went back and did another test two days later. They showed the same images to the same patients, only at a slower pace. The individuals who’d had the most significant responses to the drug images in the first test also had the strongest reactions when they knew what they were seeing.
They also discovered that the regions of the brain that were stimulated by drugs were similar to the ones stimulated by sexual images. This provides more evidence for the theory that drug addiction takes over parts of the brain associated with survival needs, such as sex and food.
Researchers are hopeful that these findings will help in the development of new addiction treatment methods. They are considering the possibility of new medicines that decrease the brain’s reactions to drug cues. Drug cravings are one of the big reasons why many people relapse from addiction recovery.