Boredom, Thrill-Seeking May Influence Drug Addictions

Boredom, Thrill-Seeking May Influence Drug Addictions

Creighton psychological science professor Dustin Stairs, PhD, and his team of undergraduate researchers are making inroads into the neuroscience of addiction and the power of social settings to help overcome a drug habit.

“Most people try drugs,” said Stairs, who has researched and written extensively on the biological underpinnings of the abuse of such drugs as cocaine, methamphetamine and nicotine. “We’ve been looking at the question of what is it about those people that go on to addiction. Some of it’s genetic, some of it’s personality, some of it’s social.”

Stairs said research has shown the thrill-seeking or high sensation-seeking personality type — the skydivers, the bungee-jumpers — to be more susceptible to addiction and there does seem to be a biological correlative among such personalities.

Stairs has found that rats raised in enriched environments with plenty of novel objects — and in social situations with two or more other rats — were less likely to avail themselves of available drugs. But in isolation, an environment inducing high-sensation-seeking in a rat, the animals readily take more drugs and more quickly show addictive-like behaviors.

“Boredom and the need for disinhibition is one of the biggest feelings that make someone susceptible to addiction,” he said. “We’ve seen the similar consistent effects in our rat models. Give them an alternative reinforcer when a drug is available, and they’re less likely to self-administer the drug.”