Just as the title suggests, Davis’ article, “Evolutionary and neuropsychological perspectives on addictive behaviors and addictive substances: relevance to the “food addiction” construct” adopts a Darwinian medical outlook to evaluate evolutionary explanations of controversial subjects like drug addiction, poor feeding habits, and gambling. From an evolutionary outlook, the widespread consumption of drugs and other addictive substances is explicable in terms of their action on humans’ motivational-emotional systems, which have transformed over the years. According to the author, subsequent addiction stems from interaction of these systems, which have evolved to pursue natural rewards, with modern environments where purified or processed hence potent versions of these substances are easily accessible. Davis (2014) extends this evolutionary assessment to explain developmental trends in behavioral addictions.
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The paper documents historical proof on the intentional use of plant parts for self-medication by humans. The author is however, keen to emphasize that in the ancient past, these materials were consumed together with other foods. This is not the case in the contemporary environment, where people increasingly isolate the active compounds resulting in highly concentrated substances. The elevated potency of these compounds seems to reduce general human health in the present environment through compulsive and unnecessary use. The principal idea discernible from this evaluation is that, even though consumption of medicinal plant derivatives by our ancestors was meant to facilitate better adaptation and survival, this is no longer the case in the modern world. In support of this perspective Nesse and Berridge (1997) note that drugs and other addictive elements tend to instigate positive emotions, which give the brain false signals of a health benefit. These signals hijack incentive mechanisms, which can culminate in continued substance use regardless of the fact that it no longer generates any pleasure.
The article applies logic expressed in the preceding paragraph to explain why addiction has even spread to matters food and nutrition. The author points out that as time has progressed, man has learnt to cultivate, manufacture and use technology to produce processed foods with as much potency as drugs, to compromise healthy functioning of the brain and supersede well-controlled adaptive habits. Pedram et al. (2013) emphasizes the acuity of this problem, by noting that the reward effect of food has been accentuated to unprecedented levels by additives like fats, salt, sugar, and other taste enhancing compounds such as monosodium glutamate (MSG).
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Davis’ (2014) evolutionary analysis of behavior is a step toward the right direction, since it poses fundamentally novel questions aimed at better understanding of certain human tendencies. For example, this perspective can help make deductions about individuals’ risk-taking on the basis of their history. It could also help determine whether the usefulness of substances in some people’s past could be selected for, based on the adaptation hypothesis. The evolutionary outlook further creates a large framework that could help provide insight into other biological traits. Most of the available research on substance abuse, including this one, addresses the problem of why some individuals have a higher affinity for addiction while others do not. As a result, the studies could pave way for better explanation of individual disparities. This would, in turn, facilitate practical preventive measures. This is because if health practitioners knew the factors predicting potential substance abusers, it would be possible to implement necessary prevention or treatment regimens.
The evolutionary viewpoint explored by Davis (2014) further explains why humans are highly prone to addiction. In addition to highlighting the brain mechanisms, the author explains how psychoactive substances disrupt people’s emotions that have evolved to control our behavioral tendencies. This is evident from the description of how such substances trigger reward mechanisms, albeit artificially, subsequently stimulating pathways that are typically fired by events that provide significant gain fitness, although they provide none and simply create illusions. This argument is further supported by Spinella (2003), who not only takes note of the complete mismatch between behavior guided by neurobiological systems in the past and current impulsive addiction circumstances, but also the reward-punishment standpoint on addiction. These findings are relevant to the modern medical environment, since treatment of individuals can incorporate psychosocial interventions in combination with pharmacological ones. Remarkably, the evolutionary point of view supports an all-inclusive search for the immediate reasons for substance abuse and addiction, while providing the requisite biological basis for combined treatment regimes.
Another crucial implication of Davis’ (2014) article is that it demonstrates the predictability of both optional and compulsive substance abuse and indulgence among humans. At the same time, the evolutionary approach facilitates identification of changes in the environment that are likely to aggravate the problem and clinical interventions likely to mitigate it. Within a clinical environment a variety of available interventions are compatible with the perspective examined by Davis. For example, pharmaceutical agents used to substitute for drugs abused by an individual seek to interrupt the reward-effect of the compounds or the compulsive neurophysiological or neurochemical causes of addiction. This means that, psychological and social treatments like twelve steps programs and cognitive behavioral therapy, as suggested by Durrant et al. (2009), strive to weaken signaled associations, counter impulsivity and consciously elevate the awareness of negative effects of use.
In regard to food addiction, the article does not provide in depth information on the exact types of food additives responsible for instigating addiction-like responses. Nonetheless, it is insightful in identifying the neurobiological and behavioral similarities between consumption of certain food types and addiction-linked disorders. This suggests that there is a research gap, when it comes to the food components that may trigger addiction. The latter could be investigated in prospective studies on evolutionary outlook on food addiction. This could be achieved using approved dietary evaluation tools, which could help in development of new strategies to treat improper eating habits and pervasive problems like obesity.
In conclusion, the article is elucidating on how genetics and the evolutionary process contribute to humans’ attraction to the lure of rewarding substances and activities. Understanding the development of such behavioral patterns is pertinent to formulation of strategies for reducing resultant harm via interventions targeting reward circuits with appropriate medications, improving self-control mechanisms, and general social environment restructuring to enhance social control.
- Davis, C. 2014. Evolutionary and neuropsychological perspectives on addictive behaviors and addictive substances: relevance to the “food addiction” construct. Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation, 5, pp. 129-137.
- Durrant, R., Adamson, S., Todd, F., and Sellman, D. 2009. Drug use and addiction: evolutionary perspective. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 43, pp. 1049–1056.
- Nesse, R.M. and Berridge, K.C. 1997. Psychoactive drug use in evolutionary perspective. Science, 278: pp. 63-66.
- Pedram, P., et al., 2013. Food addiction: Its prevalence and significant association with obesity in the general population. PLoS One, 8(9), pp.1-6.
- Spinella, M., 2003. Evolutionary mismatch, neural reward circuits, and pathological gambling. International Journal of Neuroscience, 113, pp. 503–512.