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Nature Versus Nurture and Its Impact on Addiction

According to the National Academies Press, there have been significant changes to the perspectives of thought in neuroscience throughout the last century. The original and most widely-held theory was that each individual is born with a set amount of brain cells and brain capabilities that will slowly deteriorate with age and any head trauma. What this means is that nature sets the course for a person’s mental capabilities.

In the 1980s, a breakthrough was discovered that people have the ability to develop new brain cells and can change neurological patterns over time with certain therapies and changes. As the brain responds to the outside world, the thoughts and patterns will change to adjust and develop strategies for survival or for better outcomes. This means that outside influences or nurturing from an environment will change the brain. 

What Is Nature Versus Nurture? 

In past debates over childraising and social connection, nature versus nurture referred to how children were “born to be” versus how they were raised to be. Basically, it was the idea that either children are born to be one way, genetically, and must adapt for survival (nature), or that children are molded into who they become by their caretakers and environment (nurture). Though there is a little truth to people being born in certain ways, this is simply genetics. 

For example, some people are born with higher chances of experiencing anxiety or depression due to their genetics. These mental illnesses can influence a person’s decisions and help form the argument that “nature” made them that way. 

However, through therapy and strategies to cope with anxiety, a person can function normally without anxiety hindering their decisions. The nurturing aspect helps a person change their brain functions to cope with this experience. 

How Much the Brain Can Change

Scientists in the National Academies Press study on nature versus nurture categorized different elements of specific brain changes. Connectivity in the brain is how neurons can connect and interact, creating a person’s thoughts. These connections can change drastically and as frequently as needed throughout life, as well as in the strength of these connections. 

Most changes are made when people are in early childhood, as their world around them is coming into focus. They can continue to change through adulthood, but this may take a more conscious effort in learning. The pathways neurons take, the number of neurons flooding certain pathways, and the number of connections can also change. 

As these changes form and a person develops new thoughts, ideas, and worldviews, some of their past connections may deteriorate or cease altogether. Scientists’ current stance on these neglected pathways is that if an individual does not use them, they lose them. This can be a good or bad thing, depending on the habit, thought, or stance an individual is forgetting. 

Why Early Stimulation Is Important

Through research with mice, scientists discovered that if they covered the eye of a newborn mouse through all of its development, it will never see through that eye. However, if they covered the eye of an adult mouse for an extended period of time, there was no effect on vision when they took the tape off. This means there needs to be some type of stimulation for that brain change or brain development to occur. 

When considering human infants as an example, for an infant to create an attachment to a parent or guardian, they need love, care, and attention from that parent or guardian. If a human infant is not exposed to that consistent love and care needed, they will develop attachment issues that will affect them for the rest of their lives. Though this can be treated, it is harder for a child to overcome. 

Even children who have had attachments but were forced to leave, like in some foster care situations, can have difficulties re-establishing trust. When they finally experience a caretaker that connects with them and loves them, it may feel wrong for them and stimulate behavioral issues that they cannot identify the cause for. 

Some develop commitment issues in adulthood and cannot open themselves up to the possibility of being hurt. Early stimulation and attachment are very important for all people to keep that connection open for positive relationships and healthy attachments. 

What This Means for Those in Treatment

For those in treatment, your brain undoubtedly changed through the course of your addiction and other possible life traumas. You are taking a positive step forward in getting treatment for yourself, and there is hope. You can change your brain and reopen positive connections and neural pathways. It will take hard work, and due to your neural pathways from addiction still being open, it will not be easy to change your thinking. The point is that it is not impossible, and with help, you can do it. 

Though you’ve adjusted to nature, it’s time to nurture yourself and heal your brain from addiction through treatment, abstinence, and therapy. Therapy is the best way to identify your current thoughts, feelings, emotions, and patterns and think about how to change them. Therapy can also help you work through old trauma, possible attachment issues, and how your struggle with addiction has defined your thinking. There is still a lot to learn about the brain, but scientists have proven that you can change and grow after addiction, and we want to help you do so. At RECO Intensive, we understand that changing long-held habits and beliefs is difficult. We offer a myriad of therapies and strategies for success at our various facilities. Our professional staff and experienced alumni can help you create a treatment plan that is specifically catered to you. Call us today at (561) 464-6533. Let’s get back to a brighter future. 

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