For 30 years I have been contending that unlearning beliefs will change behavior, including addictive behavior. Despite the fact that many thousands of people have made radical behavioral changes as a result of eliminating beliefs, I continue to get emails from people who state: “There is clear scientific evidence that addictions are biophysical. They are the result of chemical responses and conditionings. Getting rid of a few beliefs can’t possibly cure addictions.”

EscapeWell, a recent scientific study concluded, “… cognitive beliefs could be as potent as pharmacological interventions in terms of modifying biophysical processes in the brain and changing behavior in addicted individuals.” The author’s contend that manipulating a person’s beliefs about an addictive substance may be one avenue for treating addiction.



In other words, the study suggests that when you are dealing with addiction, belief is as important as biochemistry.

The new study by Xiaosi Gu and Terry Lohrenz from Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute shows that cognitive beliefs play a significant role in a person’s neurological response to an addictive substance and that belief can diminish the neurological effects of an addictive drug. Their research is reported in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The study’s Abstract concludes: “… beliefs can override the physical presence of a potent neuroactive compound like nicotine. …The implications of these findings may be far ranging because belief-dependent effects on learning signals could impact a host of other behaviors in addiction as well as in other mental health problems.”

Correlation is not cause

We need to be careful about assuming, just because a study (or some other type of evidence) shows a physical correlate for a mental activity, that the cause of the activity is the physical correlate.

For example, a study conducted a few years ago did show that MRIs of depressed people were different from the MRIs of “normal” people.  The study went on to describe, however, how after a few months of cognitive behavioral therapy the brain of the depressed people looked “normal.”

In other words, it is more likely that the patient’s mental state caused both the “normal” and “abnormal” brain structures than an abnormal brain structure produced depression.

So just because addictive people (be they emotional eaters, alcoholics, or drug abusers) have specific chemical reactions in the body, doesn’t mean that the cause of the addiction is the chemical reactions.

I agree that there are very real physical activities in the body that accompany addiction. I also contend (and have lots of case histories to demonstrate) that regardless of all these physical activities, when the relevant beliefs and conditionings have been eliminated, the addiction will be also.


Thanks for reading my blog. Please share your thoughts about the relative importance of beliefs in overcoming physical addictions. Disagreement is as welcome as agreement. Your comments add value for thousands of readers. I love to read them all and I will respond to as many as I can.

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If you haven’t yet eliminated at least one of your limiting self-esteem beliefs using the Lefkoe Belief Process, go to our interactive online belief-unlearning program where you can unlearn several limiting beliefs free.

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Copyright © 2015 Morty Lefkoe