I am so passionate about this topic I actually have a whole other blog devoted to this alone called unlearnaddiction.com. When one realizes the full cost of addiction you will see why I am so passionate about it. Addiction not only covers the obvious such as heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, and alcoholism. It encompasses cigarette smoking, overeating, and sex addiction. When you add up all the economic cost and human suffering of these you then get an idea as to how world-changing a cure for addiction would be.
So with this in mind I sunk myself deep into research into addiction and the most influential book by far was Compass of Pleasure by David Linden which I suggest everyone read so you may understand much better how your brain works and why.
As you read about addiction it becomes clear that it is a byproduct of evolution. Once animals were able to move something had to drive them to pursue food and reproduction, not just meander about randomly. These early animals were not even aware of their own existence let alone the need to survive and propagate the species. DNA mutations accomplished this drive by creating pleasure pathways. Over millions of years of evolution we developed brains with pathways that led us to find food and sex pleasurable, both of which helped us to survive and propagate the species. And natural selection marched on.
Then came drugs and alcohol. These substances stimulated the exact same parts of the brain that were stimulated by food and sex making our brains act as if they were beneficial for our survival and therefore told us they were pleasurable. However, unlike sex and food these things not only did not help us or our species survive but actually were detrimental.
In further research into addiction I learned how the process works. It is not enough for your brain to tell you food and sex are pleasurable but it has to remember how you got it in the first place so you can get it again. Your brain remembers all the sights, smells, touch, tastes, and sounds you were experiencing right before and during a food or sex encounter. Then, in the future if you encounter these things again you know sex or food are close at hand, so pay attention. This is manifested as cravings.
Same with drugs. It is a learning process that causes intense cravings to get you back to the place and situation that allow you to get drugs or alcohol.
So if one were to drink nonalcoholic beer instead of alcoholic beer or use an electronic non-nicotine cigarette instead of a real one your brain will think you are acting on your cravings but not getting the desired result. The brain is amazingly pliable and can adapt well to new situations and soon the brain will say that this action is no longer pleasurable and not worth craving or seeking out.
This approach makes complete sense when you look at the research and deserves a well done large study to be done on it to see if it works or not. Of course this will take government funding because there is no private initiative to study such a thing that can be done for free by anyone and cannot be patented for profit.
We have not had any major advances in addiction research and the failure rate is still unacceptably high. Even for those highly motivated to quit the failure rate is still very high and the detriment to society is too large. Please see my blog unlearnaddiction.com for more details. I am extremely passionate about this topic and addiction gets far too little attention in medical research given its astronomical effect on our society.