Most of us understand that succumbing to temptation is very easy to do: think potato chips, nuts, chocolate, shopping, gambling or booze. Temptation, and giving in, is also a mystery – why is it so difficult for some and easier for others? Many people suffer with alcoholism, drug abuse and over eating. Researchers have begun to study this phenomenon in rats and hope that their findings may apply to people.
Why can’t people stop themselves, even when they want to? Here are some findings:
- Alcoholics, drug addicts and obese people are more attracted to the ‘signals’ than other folk. ‘Signals’ are any triggers that make them aware that their drug of choice is nearby, for example, a flickering sign announcing a bar, TV commercials, a song, a smell and other cues that remind them of their desire.
- Seeing, hearing, and smelling these cues or signals sets off a dopamine reaction in the brain. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter that helps control the brain’s reward center.
- Sensitivity to signals may be partly inherited. The brain may be set up this way and then we have a mix of environmental and genetic factors that will determine how easy or difficult it will be to back away from temptation.
There is much more work to be done to understand the ‘signal responders’ and then we can begin to develop treatment strategies. For starters, you can understand why it can be helpful to avoid signals that set you off (if you recognize them).
Source: APA Monitor T. Robinson, October 2012, V43 #9