A new study by psychologists at the University of New South Wales reveals that addictive cravings can stem from. Analysis done on rats found that social interaction could mitigate loneliness cravings.
Posted in the magazine, Research found that socializing reduced sugar and nicotine cravings in rats. Social interaction had the same effect on both cravings as living in a rich and stimulating environment.
The results make sense because when the animals or humans isolate themselves, resort to other stimulation activities. Often times this means finding happiness in destructive habits like overeating, smoking, or drinking.
Social interaction can decrease cravings by diverting your mind to people instead of unhealthy triggers.
“This was an animal study, but we can probably all relate to the mental health benefits of being able to go out for coffee with our friends and chat,” said lead author Dr. Kelly Clemens from the School of Psychology from UNSW Sydney. “Those kinds of activities can divert our attention from being home and eating and drinking, but they can also be rewarding in and of themselves, and we come out of those interactions feeling relaxed, happy, and valued in a way that signifies our behavior and mental health. they have improved “.
Social isolation now figures prominently.
Researchers say that even before the pandemic, Australia saw an increase in . In fact, almost 25% of Australians reported feeling lonely or socially isolated. Prolonged loneliness can lead to health problems like anxiety, depression, overeating, and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer.
Dr. Clemens said that Social isolation It could also result in increased drug use. Also, it can make it more difficult for those who want to cut back or kick the habit. UNSW member Scientia wanted to study why people often relapse to drugs when they feel lonely or isolated.
The study on how social isolation can trigger addictive habits
“We know that if you’re a regular smoker and you’re trying to give up, and then you see someone else smoking on TV, smell cigarette smoke, or see a pack of cigarettes, people have very strong cravings,” he said. saying. “So we wanted to know if isolation increases the likelihood of picking up those signals and initiating cravings.”
Clemens said that previous studies have found that certain psychological traits can trigger addiction. The research found that both people and rodents who were anxious or lonely paid more attention to substance cues. These types of signals tend to linger in a person’s long-term memory.
“And they can actually have a greater influence on behavior later on,” he said.
How it differs from previous studies
Many previous studies have focused on how isolation affects adolescent rats. However, Dr. Clemens decided to study adult rats for this particular study. She analyzed how the signals associated with nicotine intake influenced cravings in socially isolated adult rats. The purpose of the research was to see if returning the animals to social settings could reverse these cravings.
The team measured cravings by recording how often the rats pressed a lever that activated a nicotine-related signal. The researchers found that socially isolated rats were more likely to relapse into nicotine after a short break. However, their cravings disappeared when they returned to the group home. This demonstrates the importance of social interaction for people trying to recover from substance abuse.
“When we put the rats back with their cage mates, they were no longer interested in the nicotine signal and showed little evidence of relapse,” Dr. Clemens said. “The key finding of this particular study is the reversal of relapse susceptibility with that return to group housing.”
The main conclusions of the study
Dr. Clemens expressed surprise at discovering how quickly the rats overcame addiction upon returning to group housing.
“The impact of social isolation took much longer to manifest itself, suggesting that social interaction may have a lasting protective effect against addiction development and relapse,” he said.
He also said that the study demonstrated the impermanence of drug use due to social isolation.
“Smokers who want to quit are often provided a pharmacological response to their addiction. They have access to many replacement drugs and therapies that can have variable results. Our findings suggest that something as simple as socializing with your friends could reduce those cravings and make you less likely to smoke. “
“This is consistent with other recent evidence suggesting that people crave social interaction and that isolation interacts with the brain’s reward circuits. “But it is important to note that this was research conducted in animals, and how exactly it translates into human behavior should be the subject of further investigation.
The study focused on nicotine, but Clemens found a similar result from the control measure used in the research: sugar.
“This tells us that our results probably extend to other foods and beverages that are high in fat and sugar. It is possible that if we did a similar study with alcohol and other drugs of abuse, we would find a similar pattern. But we would have to test that specifically. “
Dr. Clemens added that an additional study could look at whetherleads to temporary or long-term brain changes. This could provide information on the behavioral impacts observed in the study.
The UNSW study found that rats’ social isolation worsened cravings for substances like sugar and nicotine. However, when the researchers returned the rats to a social setting, their cravings almost disappeared. This shows the importance of socializing for physical and mental health. When people associate, it triggers the, which is also activated by drugs and sugar.
Therefore, socializing can mitigate the effects of addiction and perhaps eradicate it entirely in some cases. The researchers want to do more studies on how isolation affects the brain and, consequently, behavior. Meanwhile, research shows promise for those suffering from social isolation or drug addiction. The main conclusion is that the consequences of social isolation can be reversed and we can help each other heal.