In addiction, meditation is helpful when coupled with drug and cognitive therapies

December 19, 2013, University of Massachusetts Amherst
Using a computational model of addiction, a literature review and an in silico experiment, theoretical computer scientist Yariv Levy provides formal arguments encouraging current rehabilitation therapies to "include meditation-like practices along with pharmaceutical drugs and behavioral counseling." Credit: UMass Amherst

Using a computational model of addiction, a literature review and an in silico experiment, theoretical computer scientist Yariv Levy and colleagues suggest in a new paper this week that rehabilitation strategies coupling meditation-like practices with drug and behavior therapies are more helpful than drug-plus-talk therapy alone when helping people overcome addiction.

Levy reports results of his survey of animal and human studies and a computational experiment in a special section on addictive disorders in the current issue of the open access journal Frontiers in Psychiatry. He conducted this investigation while a doctoral student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst with neuroscience researcher Jerrold Meyer, an expert in the neurochemistry of human psychiatric disorders, and computer scientist Andrew Barto, an expert in mathematical theory of learning and planning.

Levy says the goal is to translate what has been learned from animal and human studies to better understand addiction and explore new approaches to treatment. Another member of the research team was neuroeconomist Dino Levy of Tel Aviv University, an expert in decision-making processes who developed the core of the theoretical model. He is no relation to lead author Yariv Levy.

Levy says, "Our higher-level conclusion is that a treatment based on -like techniques can be helpful as a supplement to help someone get out of addiction. We give scientific and mathematical arguments for this."

His theoretical research approach using virtual subjects is rather unusual, Levy acknowledges, but it's now gaining significant trust because it offers some strengths. In particular, because it relies on the increasing amount of available data and knowledge, in silico research offers quick preliminary tests of "rationally supported speculations," he says, before full-scale experiments are launched with human patients or animals.

"I am a theoretician, so I use other peoples' studies and try to see how they work together and how experiments fit in," Levy points out. "This work follows a knowledge repository (KR) model, where the knowledge comes from other peoples' theories and experiments. By consolidating them, we propose some hypotheses that we hope will subsequently be tested by experts in the field." The KR model used in his current work incorporates pharmacokinetic, pharmacodynamic, neuropsychological, cognitive and behavioral components, the researcher notes.

The researchers explored the allostatic theory of addiction by combining two existing computational models, one pharmacological and the other a more behavioral-cognitive model. The allostatic theory describes changes in the brain's reward and anti-reward systems and reward set points as substance misuse progresses. "Neural adaptations arising from the itself and from the anti-reward system provide the subject with functional stability, while affecting the person's mood. We propose a computational hypothesis describing how a virtual subject's drug consumption, cognitive substrate and mood interface with reward and anti-reward systems," they write.

Put more simply, the allostatic theory says that when someone takes a drug he or she stresses the reward system and it loses its homeostatic or equilibrium state. "We smoke one cigarette and go out, come back in again, and out with another cigarette, always trying to return to equilibrium," Levy says. "The reward system tries to change its structure with neural adaptations to get back to equilibrium. But if I continue to smoke, even with such adaptations, I can't make it back. Equilibrium is broken as long as I continue to smoke."

Here a second mechanism kicks in. "The reward system is so stressed, one can't come back to equilibrium," Levy explains. "So the anti-reward system says, 'I'll try to help.' The person or animal enters an allostatic state." Other brain structures are affected by the addictive substance, impairing the addict's evaluation of drug use compared to other reinforcers, he adds.

To bind the two theories and test how they could work together in silico, the authors follow three virtual case studies, each representing a different trajectory of allostatic state during escalation of cigarette smoking. Case Study 1 shows a virtual subject consuming drugs for the first time, relapsing after a period of abstinence with a concomitant negative shift in mood, a baseline situation with no therapeutic intervention. In Case Study 2, among other variations, the virtual subject uses a nicotine patch for 25 days while the same variables including mood are evaluated as for Case Study 1. In Case Study 3, the virtual subject undergoes treatment intended to emulate healing therapy periods that include meditation.

Among other outcomes, Levy says, "We try to describe what could be the cognitive effect of using a nicotine patch. What does it imply at the cognitive level, when people are willing to use one? Others have showed changes in prefrontal cortex where decisions are made, in executive function, as drug use progresses. Also, we did a small simulation of a couple of weeks with a patch, then tried to simulate the cognitive effect of using meditation for a few weeks."

Overall, "This investigation provides formal arguments encouraging current rehabilitation therapies to include meditation-like practices along with pharmaceutical drugs and behavioral counseling," the authors write.

Explore further: Scientists examine the causes and treatment of addictive behaviour

More information: www.frontiersin.org/Journal/10 … .2013.00167/abstract

Related Stories

Scientists examine the causes and treatment of addictive behaviour

November 1, 2013
(Medical Xpress)—Addiction comes in many forms: drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, and gambling have been the types that traditionally plagued society.

Prenatal smoke exposure impacts reward processing

June 25, 2013
(HealthDay)—Adolescents prenatally exposed to maternal cigarette smoking exhibit weaker brain response to anticipatory rewards than their nonexposed peers, according to a study published online June 19 in JAMA Psychiatry.

Addiction: Can you ever really completely leave it behind?

September 23, 2013
It is often said that once people develop an addiction, they can never completely eliminate their attraction to the abused substance. New findings provide further support for this notion by suggesting that even long-term ...

Studies explore potential origins of addiction and treaments

November 12, 2013
Studies released today suggest promising new treatments for nicotine and heroin addiction, and further our understanding of pathological gambling and heroin abuse in those suffering chronic pain. This new knowledge, released ...

Collaborative preclinical efficacy studies suggest a new target for drug addiction treatment

March 14, 2012
In preclinical studies, researchers at SRI International and Astraea Therapeutics have recently evaluated the role of a new drug receptor target that shows promise for the treatment of drug addiction.

Inside the brains of addicts

November 6, 2013
Eating a good meal, a compliment on a new outfit, your team winning the football game – all these things make you feel good, and that's thanks to your brain's reward system.

Recommended for you

Baby brains help infants figure it out before they try it out

January 17, 2018
Babies often amaze their parents when they seemingly learn new skills overnight—how to walk, for example. But their brains were probably prepping for those tasks long before their first steps occurred, according to researchers.

Study: No evidence to support link between violent video games and behaviour

January 16, 2018
Researchers at the University of York have found no evidence to support the theory that video games make players more violent.

Can psychedelic drugs 'reconnect' depressed patients with their emotions?

January 15, 2018
Imperial research suggests psilocybin can help relieve the symptoms of depression, without the 'dulling' of emotions linked with antidepressants.

Study listens in on speech development in early childhood

January 15, 2018
If you've ever listened in on two toddlers at play, you might have wondered how much of their babbling might get lost in translation. A new study from the University of Toronto provides surprising insights into how much children ...

Study suggests people dislike you more for humblebragging than for regular boasting

January 12, 2018
A team of researchers from Harvard University and UNC-Chapel Hill has conducted a study regarding humblebragging—in which a person boasts about an achievement but tries to make it sound less boastful by minimizing it—and ...

Study identifies brain circuit controlling social behavior

January 11, 2018
A new study by researchers at Roche in Basel, Switzerland has identified a key brain region of the neural circuit that controls social behavior. Increasing the activity of this region, called the habenula, led to social problems ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.