In attempting to address long-running substance abuse problems among patients, Missouri drug rehab centers such as the Midwest Institute for Addiction use a wide variety of interventions—including detoxification, psychiatric support, and cognitive strategies. Their success has led the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a federal research body, to conduct focus-group studies on these methods, the results of which outlined the merits of cognitive behavioral therapy:
The power of thinking about negative effects proved to be considerable. The participants reported 34 percent less intense urges to smoke and 30 percent less intense food cravings after the LATER instruction compared with the NOW instruction.
Brain scans taken during the experiment showed how concentrating on long-term negative consequences alters brain activity to reduce craving. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) of the participants’ whole brain revealed increased activity levels in areas—the dorsomedial, dorsolateral, and ventrolateral regions of the prefrontal cortex (PFC)—that support cognitive control functions, such as focusing, shifting attention, and controlling emotions.
“These results show that a craving-control technique from behavioral treatment influences a particular brain circuit, just as medications affect other pathways,” says Dr. Steven Grant of NIDA’s Division of Clinical Neuroscience and Behavioral Research.
Grant’s particular study highlighted that teaching struggling addicts to take into account the undesirable consequences of their habits can help them overcome nigh-irresistible urges. The paper further noted that learning how to drastically reorient behaviors and thought processes to lessen the impact of addictive stimuli (and thus breaking dependency on these) is not impossible for patients; such cognitive restructuring would be especially useful in ensuring long-term abstinence from self-destructive patterns.
As techniques designed to help fast-track struggling patients on the road to successful recovery, cognitive strategies represent a flourishing discipline among substance abuse therapists. In fact, Grant suggested two potentially fruitful lines of inquiry to further develop the method: identifying why some people have more problems than others in controlling their impulses, and determining whether brain activity predicts the ability to quit an addiction.
Even as research continues to make the method suitable for as many types of cases as possible, professionals who conduct cognitive behavioral therapy for St. Louis patients—as well as for those struggling with substance abuse in other locations nationwide—can help people cope by providing flexible, individualized, and goal-oriented approaches to dealing with the debilitating effects of addictions.
(Source: Cognitive Strategy Reduces Craving by Altering Brain Activity, National Institute on Drug Abuse)