Binge behavior seems to be connected to neurons which researchers have only recently discovered. At least in rats, there appears to be a connection. When certain neurons in rats were suppressed, researchers found that they were less motivated to receive treats of sugar, than when the neurons were not suppressed. Let’s look at that in more detail
Neurons are a mainly unstudied region of the brain. However, we do know that neurons are very connected to an individual’s tendency to overindulge as a response to external triggers. This is true of individuals who binge on drugs, alcohol or even food. What counts as an external trigger?
An external trigger could be something like an individual catching a glimpse of powder resembling cocaine, or hearing the jingle of an ice cream truck, that makes an individual want to binge. The findings of researchers show where in the brain there is this connection between external cues and the individual’s seeking of drugs or food.
In the study, researchers trained rats so that when they heard a particular sound and pushed a lever, they would get a drink of sugar water. As the rats performed these tasks, the neurons within the ventral pallidum area area of the brain was monitored. It was found that when the rats heard the sound cue, a larger than normal number of neurons reacted in a vigorous fashion, and the rats went for the sugar water treat much quicker. In fact, just by observing the neurons when the cue was played, the researchers were able to predict exactly how fast the rats would move to get the sugar.
The other part of this study was suppressing the neurons in the rats’ brains. This was done via the use of ‘optogenetics’, which is a technique that allows cells to be manipulated through targeted beams of light. This temporarily suppresses the activity of the ventral pallidum neurons. It was discovered that when the cue was played while the neurons were suppressed, the rats were less likely to go for the sugar treat. Even when they did pull the lever for the sugar, they were much slower to do so.
Ultimately, binge addiction is triggered in the brain. Researchers were surprised to find the high number of neurons which showed a huge increase in activity when the cue played. But it is clear that such triggers can be moderated. If there is a way to slow down an individual’s reaction in response to a trigger, so that the individual acts in a calmer manner, that could be the key to moderate addictive behavior. The point is not to create an internal environment where individuals don’t want rewards, rather to tone down the exaggerated motivation for rewards, thus avoiding binge addiction.
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