Readers of this blog will be aware that I support and am sympathetic more towards the incentive-saliance theory of dopamine rather than the reward-prediction theory of dopamine. The incentive salience theory of dopamine has been elaborated on by Berride and Robinson and I have touched upon that previously in my posts.
It was heartening to note that Daniel Lende, a co-author of one of the blogs I admire, Neuroanthropology, has research interests in the same incentive salience paradigm and had been doing an anthropological study of Colombian teens with regards to addiction and how the drug-users themselves describe their condition from the inside. He has been featured in a recent Scientific American interview and I would recommend reading the article in its entirety. He also has a three part series on his blog on the same topic.
Amongst other things, he notes that there are three parts to addiction (and dopamine’s role in addiction):
First was the emphasis that researchers placed on “wanting.” I was lucky in Colombia; addicted adolescents often described their experiences as “querer más y más,” to want more and more. Second, dopamine affects shifts in attention, which meant that some adolescents couldn’t focus on anything else when they knew an opportunity to consume was about to come along. Third, adolescents described a sense of being pushed toward something—an urge that rose up without conscious desire.
In other words the possible role for dopamine in addiction may be related to 1) conscious wanting 2) shifts in attention 3) un/subconscious urge or compulsive craving. Of course he also mentions the importance of cultural symbols and how they affect drug use.
He has also developed an eight-point scale for assessing addictive urges (craving and compulsive involvement scales) and the scale is available in both English and Spanish. Hope it spurs more research and is widely used.
A must read for those of us, who are too focussed on dopamine and the disease mode, when it comes to addiction.