Project Recovery: Dr. Matt Woolley explains the science of addiction

Jun 11, 2019, 4:02 PM | Updated: Jun 14, 2019, 2:00 pm
Project Recovery...
Dr. Matt Woolley and Casey Scott, the hosts of Project Recovery. (Photo: KSL Newsradio)
(Photo: KSL Newsradio)

Why do some people battle addiction when others don’t? What makes someone more prone to addiction than someone else?

The answer may lie in science.

On the latest episode of Project Recovery, hosts Casey Scott and Dr. Matt Woolley discuss how can you know if your behavior means you have an addiction.

People can be trapped in an addictive cycle, Dr. Woolley says, but not with things that are easily recognized as addictive.

Casey Scott says we as a society draw a line between types of addictions. If it is illegal, he says, it is seen as being bad. If you can buy it at the supermarket, then it is seen as good, Scott says.

The science of addiction

Dr. Woolley says that in the field of mental health, addictions are brain disorders.

“We are talking about a brain mechanism that’s involved in addiction. And sometimes that is referred to as a reward pathway,” Woolley says.

Basically, he says, what’s happening is something is triggering the neurochemical called dopamine. There are other neurochemicals involved too, “and that pathway, what it does is it creates this reward loop,” he says.

The human brain is designed to reward you for doing the things that keep the body alive, adaptive, and healthy, Woolley says.

Dopamine is released when the good action is performed, he says, wiring the brain to want to repeat the action to elicit the release of more dopamine.

The cycle of addiction

Behaviors become habitual over time due to this cycle.

Habitual behavior as an adult is due to reinforced behavior throughout a person’s life, reinforced by positive responses.

You anticipate an action will make you feel good, so you do it, Woolley says.

In an addiction cycle, a person begins to binge and the dopamine engages.

Then, the brain gets used to a certain amount of dopamine. This tolerance means the addictive substance needs to be increased to get the same feeling, he says.

Overcoming the body

Dr. Woolley says that when a person has an urge to give into an addiction or have a panic attack they have physical tension in the body and an increased heart rate.

Woolley says that calming the body down by breathing, meditating, stretching, and other activities can help a person work through until the body calms down.

“Give it time,” he says. “Nothing cures anxiety quite as well as a good plan.”

Introduction to behavioral addictions – or – impulse control PART ONE

Introduction to behavioral addictions – or – impulse control PART TWO

Resources for those suffering from addiction

Download Project Recovery Podcast

Project Recovery - Apple Podcasts  Project Recovery - Google Play

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.

Today’s Top Stories


The Utah House has advanced the bill that bans transgender-related surgeries on minors and pauses t...
Aimee Cobabe

Equality Utah supports bill clarifying rules for therapists when it comes to conversion therapy for minors

Equality Utah is supporting a bill adjusting rules for therapists when it comes to conversion therapy for minors.
2 days ago
When inversions bring pollution to the ground, we breathe it in. That makes it easier to get sick a...
Dale Spaulding

Is illness or poor air quality causing that cough?

Inversion can impact a person's health. Is that why people are coughing, or is it just the regular cold and flu season?
2 days ago
A woman wearing white sitting in front of a light box...
Michelle Lee

Winter blues: light therapy and lifestyle changes can help

SALT LAKE CITY – With the chilly weather and the shorter days, many people are prone to experience the winter blues. In the latest Let’s Get Moving with Maria podcast episode, host Maria Shilaos spoke with Dr. Jason Hunziker from the Huntsman Mental Health Institute about ways people can overcome the winter blues. Seasonal depression […]
3 days ago
A new study finds that reports of bad weather and air actually decrease ridership on the UTA....
Devin Oldroyd

Relief from inversion and poor air quality may be in Utah’s near future

The Beehive State is in the middle of some thick inversion and poor air quality, but relief may be on the way according to the National Weather Service.
5 days ago
A study by Intermountain Health that spanned 40 years and sought answers about the health of people...
Simone Seikaly

Intermountain’s 40-year study provides insight into weight-loss surgery

In some cases the results from the weight-loss surgery study were expected. But at least one result could be a cause for alarm and caution.
5 days ago
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service has issued a recall for mil...
Simone Seikaly

Check your pantry, a Conagra canned meat recall may affect you

Millions of pounds of canned meat and poultry products (mainly Vienna sausages) are involved in the Conagra recall.
5 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Skier being towed by a rider on a horse. Skijoring....
Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

Looking for a New Winter Activity? Try Skijoring in Bear Lake

This article about skijoring is sponsored by the Bear Lake Convention & Visitors Bureau. Participate in Skijoring the Bear on February 20th, 2023.  What is skijoring? Skijoring is when someone on skis is pulled by a horse, dog, animal, or motor vehicle. The driver leads the skiers through an obstacle course over jumps, hoops, and […]
Banner with Cervical Cancer Awareness Realistic Ribbon...
Intermountain Health

Five Common Causes of Cervical Cancer – and What You Can Do to Lower Your Risk

January is National Cervical Cancer Awareness month and cancer experts at Intermountain Health are working to educate women about cervical cancer, the tests that can warn women about potential cancer, and the importance of vaccination.
Kid holding a cisco fish at winterfest...
Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

Get Ready for Fun at the 2023 Bear Lake Monster Winterfest

The Bear Lake Monster Winterfest is an annual weekend event jam-packed full of fun activities the whole family can enjoy. This year the event will be held from January 27-29 at the Utah Bear Lake State Park Marina and Sunrise Resort and Event Center in Garden City, Utah. 
happy friends with sparklers at christmas dinner...

15 Easy Christmas Dinner Ideas

We’ve scoured the web for you and narrowed down a few of our favorite Christmas dinner ideas to make your planning easy. Choose from the dishes we’ve highlighted to plan your meal or start brainstorming your own meal plan a couple of weeks before to make sure you have time to shop and prepare.
Spicy Homemade Loaded Taters Tots...

5 Game Day Snacks for the Whole Family (with recipes!)

Try these game day snacks to make watching football at home with your family feel like a special occasion. 
Happy joyful smiling casual satisfied woman learning and communicates in sign language online using...

The Best Tools for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Workplace Success

Here are some of the best resources to make your workplace work better for Deaf and hard-of-hearing employees.
Project Recovery: Dr. Matt Woolley explains the science of addiction