A few months ago I was listening to this episode of Being on an education researcher who believes that the development of executive function should be a central focus in classroom education. The conversation was fascinating and I kept thinking that this could represent an important developmental task in early recovery and treatment. (We know that one aspect of the neurobiology of addiction is that the frontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for executive function, is impaired.) She talked about a multidimensional approach to this that includes strategies as diverse as play, rote memorization and teaching strategies that encourage students to pause before acting and train students to pay sustained attention to a subject.
Over the last day, one of our staff, Matt, shared this link with me.
They found that this type of training improved working memory and also reduced their discounting of delayed rewards.
“The legal punishments and medical damages associated with the consumption of drugs of abuse may be meaningless to the addict in the moment when they have to choose whether or not to take their drug. Their mind is filled with the imagination of the pleasure to follow,” commented Dr. John Krystal, Editor of Biological Psychiatry. “We now see evidence that this myopic view of immediate pleasures and delayed punishments is not a fixed feature of addiction. Perhaps cognitive training is one tool that clinicians may employ to end the hijacking of imagination by drugs of abuse.”
Dr. Bickel agrees, adding that “although this research will need to be replicated and extended, we hope that it will provide a new target for treatment and a new method to intervene on the problem of addiction.”
He also shared this story on recent findings from neurological studies of meditation:
…scientists say that meditators like my husband may be benefiting from changes in their brains. The researchers report that those who meditated for about 30 minutes a day for eight weeks had measurable changes in gray-matter density in parts of the brain associated with memory, sense of self, empathy and stress. The findings will appear in the Jan. 30 issue of Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging.
M.R.I. brain scans taken before and after the participants’ meditation regimen found increased gray matter in the hippocampus, an area important for learning and memory. The images also showed a reduction of gray matter in the amygdala, a region connected to anxiety and stress. A control group that did not practice meditation showed no such changes.
Could strategies focused one developing executive function become important in addiction treatment?