The Addictive Brain

Rated 5 out of 5 by from Once I Started I Couldn’t Stop Watching I found this course to be fascinating in ways that differed from some of my more traditionally academic classes. While I rarely watch more than one or two lectures at a time on a given day, I found myself watching all 12 lectures at a single sitting-something I have never done before. The lectures and the professor were so engaging and so relevant that I did not stop until the end.
Date published: 2020-07-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Insights into Addiction Who among us don't have demons that we wrestle with, and we all know people who struggle with addictions. I am a recovering cigarette smoker. This is an accessible discussion of the biological basis for addiction. It contains helpful information on the deep roots of addiction and points to strategies that can help people deal with them. Dr. Polk is an excellent presenter. I recommend this course to everyone.
Date published: 2020-06-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding Scientific Presentation Professor Polk brings serious scientific knowledge along with easy to understand graphics to a subject that affects us all - either directly or through family and friends. I used this course as a review prior to taking medical exams on the neurobiology of addiction . It is sophisticated, accurate, and meticulous in detail. Prof. Polk is direct and informative, but is easy to listen to. I can't stress the value of the graphics enough. They make each drug's effect clear by dramatizing how various classes of drugs interact with specific receptors in the brain. (The Great Courses has come a long way from a "professor at a podium.") This is an excellent course and on an equal footing with medical lectures I have attended.
Date published: 2020-05-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thorough and comprehensive I neded to become well informed on this topic, and I now am. This course is very well done and presented by a well known expert in the field. Easily understood.
Date published: 2020-05-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating Course! Professor Polk does an outstanding job in explaining addiction - which impacts all of us to some degree. The visual aids are tremendous.
Date published: 2020-03-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Complex subject made easy to understand Very clear explanation of brain changes associated with addiction. Very helpful in understanding others with addiction and helpful if you have struggled with these issues. These brain changes underlie addictions with drugs, smoking, and alcohol, but also explain more socially acceptable behaviors like excessive time spent on internet games. Speaker is very clear and easy to understand.
Date published: 2019-12-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very clear I bought this a few weeks ago and could not stop watching. Very informative and included all addictions. This would be a great documentary for the general public to understand the pull of addiction and be more sympathetic to the individual addict.
Date published: 2019-11-26
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Quite technical More human stories would bring out the tragedy of addiction. That would make the science more compelling
Date published: 2019-11-02
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The Addictive Brain
Course Trailer
Addiction 101
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.

34 min
The Psychology and Neuroscience of Reward
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....

31 min
How Addiction Hijacks the Brain
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....

33 min
Genetics-Born to Be an Addict?
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....

32 min
Your Brain on Drugs
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....

29 min
Why We Crave Coffee and Cigarettes
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....

33 min
Alcohol-Social Lubricant or Drug of Abuse?
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....

30 min
The Science of Marijuana
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....

31 min
Stimulants-From Cocaine to Ritalin
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....

32 min
The Science of Poppies, Pleasure, and Pain
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....

33 min
The Gambler's Brain
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....

32 min
Junk Food, Porn, Video Games-Addictions?
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....

35 min
Thad Polk

Addiction is a modern-day epidemic...If we ever hope to stem the tide, it is imperative that we develop a better understanding of what addiction is and how it works at a neural level.


Carnegie Mellon University


University of Michigan

About Thad Polk

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 University of Pennsylvania.

Professor Polk's research combines functional imaging of the human brain with computational modeling and behavioral methods to investigate the neural architecture underlying cognition. Some of his major projects have investigated differences in the brains of smokers who quit compared with those who do not, changes in the brain as we age, and contributions of nature versus nurture to neural organization. Professor Polk regularly collaborates with scientists at the University of Texas at Dallas and at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin, where he is a frequent visiting scientist.

Professor Polk regularly teaches on topics ranging from the human mind and brain, to cognitive psychology, to computational modeling of cognition. His teaching at the University of Michigan has been recognized by numerous awards, and he was named to The Princeton Review's list of the Best 300 Professors in the United States.

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