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The Addictive Brain

The Addictive Brain

Professor Thad Polk, Ph.D.
University of Michigan

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The Addictive Brain

Course No. 1668
Professor Thad Polk, Ph.D.
University of Michigan
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4.9 out of 5
60 Reviews
95% of reviewers would recommend this series
Course No. 1668
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What Will You Learn?

  • Starting with psychology and neurology, look at the science behind how addictions take hold.
  • Understand how your DNA and overall genetics may affect your likelihood to develop an addiction.
  • Get an in-depth look at addictive substances and behaviors, including stimulants, depressants, and gambling.

Course Overview

Addiction touches us all. Whether it’s a friend who can’t quit smoking, a colleague afflicted with alcoholism, or a relative abusing prescription drugs, we all know someone who suffers from some form of addiction—we may even have an addiction ourselves. By some estimates, roughly one in four Americans might be considered addicts. On the other hand, many of us use substances such as alcohol recreationally, without suffering the physical or psychological symptoms of addiction. So what is the difference between drug use, abuse, and clinical addiction? What causes addictions? What happens when your brain is on drugs, and why do addicts behave the way they do?

Neuroscientists are beginning to answer these questions and more by examining the inner workings of the brain. Addiction is sometimes viewed as a failure of morality, character, or will. But neuroscience offers a very different picture—one that can inform how we, as individuals and as a society, treat addicts and the problems caused by addiction. Professor Thad A. Polk, an award-winning professor and researcher at the University of Michigan, shows you that addiction is a scientifically understandable problem that has its origins in neurobiology and genetics. The twelve eye-opening lectures of The Addictive Brain will change the way you think about addiction.

This course takes you through the psychology of reward, positive and negative reinforcement, and theories of learning. You’ll then review the field of genetics—including studies of twins and other investigations that offer biological insights into behavior. You’ll learn how neurotransmitters communicate information between brain cells and how they influence many of the activities of our bodies and minds—including the experience of pleasure and our ability to make sound decisions.

After exploring the myriad ways in which humans learn and how the brain drives our actions, you’ll delve deep to see what happens at a neural level when someone sips coffee, smokes a cigarette, drinks alcohol, snorts cocaine, and more. Investigating what happens when different drugs enter the brain, and the ways drug molecules induce pleasure and shut down our ability to make good decisions, provides real insight into the biology and even psychology of addiction. To give you a comprehensive overview, The Addictive Brain covers not only addictive substances, but also addictive behaviors such as gambling—all through the lens of the latest scientific research and analysis.

Examine the Brain on Drugs

Most of us have probably seen the old anti-drug commercial in which an actor compares your brain on drugs to an egg sizzling in a hot frying pan. That’s a powerful image, but it doesn’t tell us what actually happens when drugs enter your body and interact with neurochemical processes. For that, we turn to neuroscience, which draws a much richer and more interesting picture.

After giving an overview of what addiction is and how it changes the brain, Professor Polk reveals how some of the most common drugs interact with our brains: caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, marijuana, amphetamines, and opiates all have significantly different effects. Aided by many custom animations that illustrate the underlying processes, Professor Polk shows you how each drug binds to neural receptors to either excite or inhibit neurochemical communications. For example, you’ll learn how caffeine blocks receptors that are associated with drowsiness, cutting off the signals that normally make us want to sleep. You’ll also see how alcohol tends to inhibit neural transmission, producing a sedative and hypnotic effect.

Along the way, you’ll discover many other fascinating facts about drugs and the human body. For instance:

  • Inhaling smoke from a cigarette delivers nicotine to your brain in about seven seconds, faster than any other method of drug intake.
  • Marijuana binds to receptors in many different areas in the brain, which accounts for its wide-ranging effects on mood, memory, appetite, and sensory experience, as well as its potential medical uses.
  • Before it was banned, cocaine was considered a kind of wonder drug, and was even in the original recipe for Coca-Cola.
  • Endorphins released during a “runner’s high” bind to the same receptors as heroin, leading to a (much milder) form of euphoria.

Most surprising, perhaps, is the way unhealthy patterns of behavior can mirror chemical addiction. When you go inside the brain of a compulsive gambler, you’ll find the same neurological mechanisms as you find in drugs addicts—as well as the same pattern of tolerance and withdrawal. Professor Polk concludes the course with an examination of other addictive behaviors—junk food, pornography, video games—and considers the sources of pleasure and abuse.

Learn about Potential Treatment Options

Along the way, you’ll learn not only how these drugs affect us and why we become addicted, but also what can be done about addiction. Science may provide a clinical description of addiction’s mechanisms, but ultimately, addiction is a human challenge. Whether we ourselves suffer, or we know and care about someone with an addiction, knowledge is only the first step.

With each of the drug categories you’ll study, you’ll learn about treatment options, including:

  • pharmacological treatments to alleviate symptoms of withdrawal,
  • cognitive behavioral therapy to attack the source of cravings, and
  • support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Gamblers Anonymous.

Depending on the drug, relapse rates can be high. Less than 10 percent of attempts to quit cigarette smoking succeed long term, which is similar to the quit rate for heroin. But understanding the underlying mechanisms of addiction can often help motivate an addict to seek treatment. Such an understanding can also lead friends and loved ones to see the addict, and their addiction, in a completely new way.

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12 lectures
 |  31 minutes each
  • 1
    Addiction 101
    Begin your course by defining addiction," which is diagnosed based on characteristics such as abuse, dependence, and craving. Professor Polk then surveys the history of drug use, from ancient history through the development of synthetics in the 19th and 20th centuries. Finally, he reviews government regulation and the substantial costs of drug abuse, both to the individual and to society." x
  • 2
    The Psychology and Neuroscience of Reward
    Explore the brain's mechanisms for learning from reinforcement. You'll start with the psychological aspects, discovering the way humans learn by a series of trials and rewards. Then you'll find out what parts of the brain process pleasure, self-control, and craving, and see how the psychology and neuroscience of reward processing converge. x
  • 3
    How Addiction Hijacks the Brain
    Here you'll examine the ways addiction alters the brain by numbing the pleasure center, sensitizing the dopamine system, and inhibiting the prefrontal cortex. Combined, these altered brain functions lead to strong cravings and a reduced ability to control one's actions. This foray into neuroscience will forever change the way you think about addiction. x
  • 4
    Genetics: Born to Be an Addict?
    Investigate how people may be susceptible to addiction on a genetic level. Thanks to studies of twins and DNA analysis, scientists are homing in on the genes that predispose us toward addiction. While there is no single addiction gene," our DNA can significantly influence whether we become addicts." x
  • 5
    Your Brain on Drugs
    Shift your attention from the nature of addiction to the nature of drugs. Here you'll delve into the process of neurochemical transmission and see how drugs mimic this activity by binding to neural receptors. This process is responsible for everything from a drug's physical and psychological effects to its potency. x
  • 6
    Why We Crave Coffee and Cigarettes
    Caffeine and nicotine are two of the most common psychoactive drugs in our society. How do they work? How dangerous are they? After reviewing how each of these drugs affects the brain, and why nicotine in particular is so addictive, Professor Polk offers several strategies to quit tobacco use. x
  • 7
    Alcohol: Social Lubricant or Drug of Abuse?
    Alcohol is often discussed separately from other drugs, but as you'll discover in this lecture, alcohol affects the human body in many of the same ways. Take a close look at your brain on alcohol to explore dependence, withdrawal, and genetic susceptibility. Then review several treatment options for alcohol abuse. x
  • 8
    The Science of Marijuana
    Although there is no shortage of controversy around marijuana, whose legal status now varies from state to state, the science of this drug may surprise you. Through the lens of the neuroscientist, Professor Polk tours the effects, and the possible medicinal value, of marijuana. x
  • 9
    Stimulants: From Cocaine to Ritalin
    From the original recipe for Coca-Cola to treatments for attention deficit disorder, psychostimulant drugs have had remarkable uses. But they have also been dangerously abused in the form of crack cocaine, methamphetamine, and related drugs. Find out how stimulants work in the brain and why they can be so harmful. x
  • 10
    The Science of Poppies, Pleasure, and Pain
    Round out your survey of the world's major drugs with an examination of opium and its derivatives, from regularly prescribed painkillers like codeine and morphine to heroin, often considered the most harmful drug of abuse in the world today. Learn about the neurological effects and treatment options for opiate drugs. x
  • 11
    The Gambler's Brain
    Are drugs the only thing humans can get addicted to? What about behaviors? To answer this question, take a look at what happens inside the brain of a compulsive gambler. As this case study reveals, many of the same neurochemical processes of drug abuse, from genetic predisposition to dopamine release, also accompany addiction to behaviors. x
  • 12
    Junk Food, Porn, Video Games: Addictions?
    The course concludes with an exploration of other potentially addictive behaviors. Professor Polk argues that some artificial stimuli, junk food, pornography, and video games to name three, are supernormal," meaning that they actually activate the brain's reward circuit more strongly than natural stimuli do, leading to some of the same neurological effects as drug use." x

Lecture Titles

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What's Included

What Does Each Format Include?

Video DVD
Video Download Includes:
  • Ability to download 12 video lectures from your digital library
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps
Video DVD
Audio Download Includes:
  • Ability to download 12 audio lectures from your digital library
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE audio streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps
Video DVD
DVD Includes:
  • 12 lectures on 2 DVDs
  • 120-page printed course guidebook
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps
Video DVD
CD Includes:
  • 12 lectures on 6 CDs
  • 120-page printed course guidebook
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE audio streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps

What Does The Course Guidebook Include?

Video DVD
Course Guidebook Details:
  • 120-page printed course guidebook
  • Photos & illustrations
  • Suggested readings
  • Questions to consider

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Your professor

Thad Polk

About Your Professor

Thad Polk, Ph.D.
University of Michigan
Professor Thad A. Polk is an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor in the Department of Psychology and the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the University of Michigan. He received a B.A. in Mathematics from the University of Virginia and an interdisciplinary Ph.D. in Computer Science and Psychology from Carnegie Mellon University. He also received postdoctoral training in cognitive neuroscience at the...
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Reviews

The Addictive Brain is rated 4.9 out of 5 by 60.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I work in a public defense office. Many of the clients passing through our doors are in trouble as a result of drug and alcohol addictions. This course explains what their addicted brains are going through and why they can't stop, even in the face of possible prison time. I highly recommend it for anyone who loves, works with, defends, or knows an addict.
Date published: 2017-06-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Awesome DVD I love these DVDs I learn so much in this easy format and excellent instruction. Thank you
Date published: 2017-05-28
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great content for all1 I loved the inclusion of studies conducted on addicts and mice throughout the decades. The fact that it covered all kind of addiction while Mr Polk remained impartial validated the science. Great course and it would be a lie to say I didn't learn a lot.
Date published: 2017-03-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I am a Family Physician "hospitalist" who contracts with a local Native American tribe to hospitalize tribal members. Many of said hospitalizations involve alcohol and drug addiction. Detox etc. are regular features of the hospitalizations. The Addictive Brain is an excellent review of the topic--even at my level of understanding.
Date published: 2017-03-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I am a substance-abuse therapist and this information was very educational for both me and any clients that I have. This was well spent money for the beautifully illustrated DVD, very pleased with the product and I will buy others.
Date published: 2017-03-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Title says it all This course was a personal journey for me. With a son who is a poly addict, it taught me the science of the addictive brain, helping me understand what drives the addict. I have more compassion for the addict and the huge obstacles he or she must overcome to heal and recover.
Date published: 2017-03-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from
Date published: 2017-03-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating, easy to follow with audio download This isn't the typical fun Great Course that people buy to enrich their lives, like learning how to cook or learning about ancient history. Let's face it, probably most people buy it because there's something about addictive behavior that's impacting their life and they are trying to understand what exactly they're dealing with. That's why I bought it (a loved one). I highly recommend this course. It's extremely instructive and the Dr. Polk makes it interesting and easy to understand. He frequently uses the phrase "for example" --- magic words for me --- and then illustrates what he's talking about. And BTW, I listened to it in audio format, but I had no problem visualizing any graphics that might have been part of the series. Dr. Polk is a university professor, not an MD, but this isn't a problem for me at all and doesn't devalue the course. Dr. Polk is a scientist, and everything he says is backed by scientific research and evidence, which we would insist on even if he were an MD. I honestly don't know what value would be added if he were an MD. But the professor doesn't just string out a bunch of scientific data. He shows how the neuroscience explains the behavior you and I might observe and makes us scratch our head. In many cases he explains current treatment options. He doesn't make judgments, lay blame or let addicts off the hook. He just lays it out: here's what's going on in the brain that gets a person addicted to substances or behaviors, and why it's so hard for addicts to change their behavior even if they want to. If you're like me, you'll walk away with a much better idea of what you're dealing with, and maybe an idea of what to do next.
Date published: 2017-03-02
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