Do You Always Like the Things You Want?

The difference between liking something and wanting something were always assumed to be little to none, until now. 

An unethical experiment, as were unfortunately common in the 1970s, was undergone on a person referred to as Patient B-19. 

He was hooked up to electrodes that produced pleasurable sensations at the click of a button. During the session, he hit the button upwards of 1,000 times. 

After the electrodes were removed, his psychiatrist asked him to describe the experience. While words like, “fantastic”, or, “amazing”, were expected, he actually indicated that he didn’t enjoy it whatsoever. 

It seemed contradictory that he would want the experience, but not like it.   

This phenomenon was replicated in more recent studies with lab rats. It was assumed that the hormone dopamine was responsible for both liking and wanting. Thus, they hypothesized that if dopamine was cut off from their brains, they would no longer seek out sugary substances. Their hypothesis was wrong. 

The rats still continued eating the sugary food. When they went the opposite direction and increased the dopamine in the rat’s brains, the food consumption increased but their levels of liking it did not. 

It wasn’t until recently that this theory became widely accepted as true; that dopamine is only linked to wanting not liking. 

This has major implications on how we approach addiction – whether it be to drugs, gambling, food, etc. 

For a person with an addiction, wanting is no longer linked to liking. 

“The dopamine system learns that certain cues – such as the sight of a coffee machine – can bring rewards. Somehow, in ways that are not fully understood, the dopamine system for the addict becomes sensitized. The wanting never goes away, and is triggered by numerous cues.”

“…the wanting never ceases to go away – or not for a very long time. That makes drug addicts extremely vulnerable to relapse. They want to take the drugs again, even if the drugs give them little or no pleasure.”

“For rats, the dopamine sensitization can last half a lifetime. The task now for researchers is to find whether they can reverse this sensitization – in rats, and then hopefully, in humans.” 

The more we understand about our physiology, the better we can address problems such as addiction. 

At Williamsville Wellness, we understand the importance of staying up-to-date on the latest scientific findings, technologies, and education in order to provide the best possible treatment.

Let us help you stop using, and start living; call us now at 804-599-4357.

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