“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.”
– Alvin Toffler, futurologist (Toffler, A. 1970 “Future Shock”), Random House
Conditioning and addictions are in effect deep-rutted habits. Given what we know about neuroplasticity, there is hope that we can unlearn habits that do not help us flourish. While the brain maps we have created never really go away, they can diminish through non-use. Giving our attention to developing new habits is a little like watering new plants and letting the old ones wither away. It takes time and sustained effort to change behaviour as memories of the pleasure and cues triggering those memories are always there to tempt us. With knowledge and support, we can achieve great change.
Recognizing the Addiction-One-Condition Model of “Addiction is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry…” is a big advance and can help remove the stigma that has often attached to addiction in the past as some kind of moral failing or weakness. It helps us make sense too of the obvious compulsive nature of internet attractions that have got so many people hooked. The best brains in the IT and advertising industries have made sure of that.
The fact that addiction too is a process, a learned behaviour, can alert us to preventative strategies before we, or those close to us, slide too far out of control, as the way back can be long and arduous.
The story of the frog is a useful learning aid here. The story goes that researchers placed a frog into hot water. It immediately sprang out, its natural stress response being sensitive to the immediate threat. When they placed the frog into cold water however and turned up the heat very slowly, the frog boiled and died. The frog became accustomed to the gradual increases in heat and its natural stress response became ineffective in saving its life. This is can happen to anyone when we lose our sensitivity to threats and our stress response fails to keep us safe.