Retrain Your Craving Brain

Feb 26, 2018

Are you addicted to your smartphone? Many of us certainly feel drawn to our electronic devices, and the array of information and activities they offer, in a way we feel uncomfortable admitting. And while there's some controversy about whether or not the term "addiction" is appropriate, there is growing evidence that things like posting on Facebook can elicit the same brain response as an addictive substance.

"When you scan someone's brain when they're self-disclosing, they activate the same reward-based learning processes as heroine, alcohol, cocaine, and cigarettes," explained Dr. Judson Brewer, author of The Craving Mind: From Cigarettes to Smartphones to Love – Why We Get hooked and How We Can Break Bad Habits.

Those reward-based learning circuits may have evolved to help us find food.

"If we fast forward to modern day, where food is plentiful, we don't necessarily need this all the time because there's a McDonald's on every corner," said Brewer. "Yet, this process is still at play, and still at play quite a bit. So, our brains start co-opting this and say 'why don't you use this to cope with stress?"

That can be a good thing, or it can lead to harmful behaviors like emotional eating, smoking, and social media overuse. Unfortunately, there's not a lot of research out there showing what kinds of strategies are most effective. But Brewer says mindfulness can be a way to interrupt a negative cycle, become aware of what drives cravings, and gain some perspective on the impacts of our behavior.