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How Memory Promotes Addiction

Updated on October 13, 2017
Endy Noble profile image

Endy is a research enthusiast with passion in religious and social issues.

The human brain is a powerful organ, working as a mechanism that controls, coordinates and stores effects, influences, actions and experiences (Learned, witnessed and taught). This mechanism coordinates the three most important processes that take place in the human brain which is learning, remembering and knowing. During this processes, the thought center is activated to facilitate understanding of messages passed.

But as the processes are ongoing, effects, influences, and impacts are stored as memory. This forms the basis for what we can remember. An action, effect or feeling is stimulated. These effects or feeling are also stored as part of memory properties. If the end result is desirable, satisfying or pleasurable, the brain creates a need for repeat.

How does Addiction Results?

Addiction results from primary experiences. These experiences are stored as memory properties which are relate-able and can be triggered by a number of factors once in contact. Primarily, nobody wants addiction. But the sensation or pleasurable effects of experience created by first trial could create desire for repeated attempt and more attempts until the power of decision (will-power) is completely grounded and overwhelmed.

Literally, experiences exert powerful influence on the brain's rewards system that manifests in five distinct ways:

  • creates a powerful craving for substance or object of addiction
  • causes loss of control and rationality through hijacking the brain's decision-making center--making desire for pleasure more appealing.
  • It places pleasure over knowledge, consequences and conscience
  • It engages the senses and cells in continuous desire for involvement
  • It weakens the will-power

All these result from the effects of the first derivative experience whether good or bad. The outcome of the experience is what creates the next level of actions.

“Forbidden to remember, terrified to forget; it was a hard line to walk.”

— ― Stephenie Meyer, New Moon

How Does Memory Promotes Addiction?

The brain has reward system which is called ‘the limbic system’—a network responsible for the feeling of sensation. These pleasures or sensations are communicated through the neurotransmitters or the neurons. I wouldn't want to delve into more details since this is not a research paper. But memory promotes addiction in many ways through the same mechanisms.

Neuro-imaging methodologies and new research order shows that pleasurable activities or experiences such as those resulting from sex-addictions, masturbation, doping, gambling, looking for troubles and non-forgiveness also co-opts the brain into repeating a practice. So the primary role of the memory becomes its role in promoting addiction. Let’s consider the following roles:

1. The memory serves as reminder instincts

Reminder instincts are created by the influence of first experience. Once a person is reminded of the first experience, the brain’s primary neuro-transmitter stimulates the brain’s reward system—the dopamine, a chemical hormone released into the brain’s reward system or circuit to create euphoria. Once this euphoria process is initiated, the dopamine floods the brain and hijacks normal brain processes. This is the primary cause of addiction and more reminder results in continuous craving for more engagement and repetitive practice.

2. The memory system has the ability to link experiences

The dopamine-based excitement or exhilaration is a common experience in man as well as other animals. The Pavlov’s experiment is a practical example of man-animal commonality. The same situations or experience tends to promote the same behavioral pattern. This is a result of experience-linking.

The brain’s (memory’s) ability to link old experiences to new ones promotes same body desires and responses. Once this, ‘this action leads to elation’ mechanism is set-up, it becomes hard to force the brain to follow a different path. So the path that was set-up by the first experience becomes the easy path and continuous to widen until it becomes an express road to addiction.

3. The memory’s ability to confer concentration of thoughts

The reminiscences magnetism is most times set-up by the memory system. This is one of the ways memory promotes addiction. Once we begin to go over our painful, bitter, sweet or pleasurable experience, a desire system is set-up whether promotional or repulsive. In the case of promotional, the desire is to repeat a process; whereas, in a repulsive, the desire is never to repeat the process again. Both system works in the same but opposite ways.

It’s a natural law that whatever the mind is concentrated on grows. So once minds are concentrated on the sensational or pleasurable elation or excitation through the reminiscence mechanism, the desire to have more of the sensations or enjoyment is triggered and it grows.

Role of Memory in Addiction

4. The brain’s ability to identify people, events and situations

One big question that is often asked is, “Why people tend to go back to their ex?” The answer to this is simple; ‘Shared memorable or pleasurable experiences’. The memory of the moment spent together is as strong as a physical magnet. Once the brain is able to reconnect with the memory, the same old hormonal or chemical processes are triggered. We simply want to have a replay—the same addictive desire which most times overruns knowledge and decision.

This powerful magnetic effects tend to attract us to people, events and situations in or with which the experiences are shared.

5. The ability of the memory to associate substances, place, scent or smell and colors

Finally, the brain plays an important role in taste, smell and color detection. It also associate substances to place and habits. This role makes addicts more vulnerable around substance and place of addiction. For instance, in the case of ex that I mentioned earlier, some other person's perfume can remind you of your ex if your ex uses the same perfume. So each time you smell the perfume or see the color of that perfume, your ex comes to mind.

However, the release of the chemical or hormone will not persist except your ex is in sight. These are some of the ways memory promotes addiction. But like I said earlier, addiction starts with first non-arrested attempt. It creates the actual desire for a repeat until the path is broad enough and out of control. The dopamine flooding and the brain reward system ceases the decision center. This becomes very difficult to handle. separation from environment and substance of addiction could be a great way to start the rehab process.


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