The third type of brain change; reduced self-control.
Reduced self-control is a result of a weaker inhibitory control from the prefrontal cortex. This is because the prefrontal cortex plays an important role in the inhibiting of undesirable behaviour and in exerting self-control. The prefrontal cortex has been called the mammalian brain, the advanced part of the brain as compared to the primitive reptilian brain. This is the thinking part of the brain, this is the part of the brain that can consider future consequences and makes rational decision making about what actions we should take. It is the primitive reward circuit that tells us what actions we feel like taking.
Chronic addictive behaviour leads to abnormalities in the prefrontal cortex and it is these abnormalities that undermine our ability to exhibit our self control. Studies have shown that with addictive behaviour the prefrontal cortex has changes to the structure of prefrontal neurones, reduced activity in the prefrontal cortex, and even the volume of the prefrontal cortex is shown to be reduced. Addiction can lead to cognitive impairments, damaging working memory and decision making, as well as focus and the ability to concentrate.
The addicted brain doesn’t work as well as it would normally, and therefore has a hard time overcoming increasingly powerful urges coming from the primitive reward circuit, so that the ability to exhibit self control and override food (sugar) cravings becomes weaker and weaker. The prefrontal cortex is the logical rational circuit that understands consequences and inhibits inappropriate behaviour such as over-eating, eating when not hungry, bulimia nervosa, anorexia nervosa, hoarding food, pica, etc.
So why do some people get addicted to food while others don’t?
Studies have shown that certain people are more susceptible to addiction than others and it is our genetic makeup that can influence how susceptible we are. We inherit two versions of each of our genes from our parents and one or more of these genes can influence our susceptibility to food issues. So yes, you can blame your parents and there might actually be a scientific basis to if there really is such a thing as an addictive personality. If you have inherited these genes then you might be a person that is at risk of getting hooked on any kind of addictive substance or behaviour. This also may explain why so many people have multiple addictions to not only food, but alcohol, caffein, and nicotine, and also specific behaviours that don’t even involve the consumption of anything.
It is important to remember that all addictive substances as well as behaviours lead to increased levels of dopamine in the limbic system associated with wanting or craving, and it is also important to remember that your genes just make you susceptible in contribution to having an addiction which puts you at more of a risk. It does not necessarily mean that you will become a food addict, your environment also plays a key roll.
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