Amazing New Discovery Could Help People Cope With Addiction Cravings

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Amazing New Discovery Could Help People Cope With Addiction Cravings

The phrase “the hair of the dog that bit you” is often used to describe drinking alcohol when going through withdrawal (often referred to as a hangover). It is considered a way to ‘cure’ the uncomfortable symptoms of a hangover.

However, a recent study has found that this thinking could be particularly dangerous. This study shows that this behaviour could increase your chances of developing alcohol use disorder (AUD).


Addiction refers to the dependence on a substance that is beyond a person’s control. A person could become addicted to anything, for example; drugs, the internet, or gambling. Alcohol addiction is a powerful disease that without treatment can be detrimental to a person’s life and well-being.

Knowledge is power, especially when dealing with addiction. Luckily, extensive research is being done on addiction treatments and there is already a multitude of proven effective treatments available.

Substance Use Disorder (SUD) Triggers

AUD follows the same addiction cycle of; initial use, abuse, dependency, withdrawal and relapse. Triggers, or cues, refer to stimuli that encourage a person to have a certain impulse.

In the case of alcohol use disorder (AUD), a trigger example could be seeing wine at the grocery shop. It could also be going out on a Friday after work or meeting new people.

As alcohol is physically addictive, if a dependent person stops drinking alcohol abruptly they will experience extremely uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. Common alcohol withdrawal symptoms include; anxiety, depression, nausea and nightmares.

Experiencing withdrawal makes a person more likely to drink and less resistant to triggers. Investigating triggers for substance use offers data that can form strategies to prevent a person from acting on the desire to drink alcohol.

Animal Studies

Comparative psychology is the study of animal behaviour to gain information about human behaviour. It is conducted to observe, compare and contrast behaviour in animals, and to replicate experimental conditions in humans.

In drug and alcohol addiction research, comparative studies are invaluable. In many ways, humans and animals differ, but addiction produces similar behaviours. In both species, addiction engages the part of the brain known as the amygdala. The amygdala is the part of the brain responsible for emotions and emotive memories.

New Discovery

A recent study conducted by a team of researchers at Scripps Researchused comparative psychology to investigate triggers for alcohol dependency. The study used a cohort of rats who were dependent on alcohol.

The study found that environmental triggers in rats (similar to environmental cues in humans like seeing wine at a grocery shop) were more effective when the rats were going through alcohol withdrawal. They found the same environmental stimuli did not produce an overwhelming response in rats at the initial use stage of alcohol addiction. The environmental triggers for rats were more smell based, whereas in humans it is more visual.

While this could be considered a predictable response, the research offers a new perspective. The research question driving the study was why triggers were more powerful during withdrawal. This provided some new information in the area of alcohol addiction research.

What they found was that over time, animals that discovered that the uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms were eradicated by drinking more alcohol. It becomes a learned behaviour.

This offers a new perspective - those who have reached the stage of being dependent on alcohol do not crave the euphoric experience it provides. At least, that is not the driving force behind cravings and impulses. Rather, it is the learned experience that alcohol provides relief from withdrawal.


The study was conducted by conditioning rats to a particular scent. Conditioning refers to creating an association between two things; in this case, it is the association between receiving alcohol and the scents anise and orange.

The rats learned that when they smelled anise or orange, they could press a lever to obtain alcohol. The rats were split into two groups. One group was conditioned during initial use (i.e. the rats that are not dependent on alcohol) and the other group was conditioned during the stage of withdrawal (i.e. the rats that were already alcohol dependent).


The researchers observed that the rats who were initially conditioned during the withdrawal period were much more impulsive when going through withdrawal. The rats who were conditioned during the withdrawal stage pressed the lever to request alcohol twice as much as the other group for thirty minutes.

To further test the severity of the cravings, the researchers administered a small electric shock to the rats or made pressing the lever increasingly difficult. Even with this increasing difficulty, the rat's behaviour remained unchanged.

This shows the power of addiction on behaviour and also, how addiction may be increased during the withdrawal period. This phenomenon is known as withdrawal-associated learning.

What Can Recovery Professionals Learn From Withdrawal-Associated Learning?

These results offer insight into how alcohol addiction begins and leaves the door open for valuable future research. It shows in particular how the stage of alcohol withdrawal is a risk factor for the development of substance use disorder.

The researchers also discovered that the stage of conditioning appealed to different parts of the amygdala. This offers new information about the neurological processes involved in addiction formation.

The findings suggest that a person who does not wish to develop a substance use disorder should not partake in drinking when going through alcohol withdrawal. It could offer recovery insight, such as taking up healthy habits during withdrawal to relearn addictive behaviours.

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Amazing New Discovery Could Help People Cope With Addiction Cravings


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