headshot of Prof. Francesco Leri
Prof. Francesco Leri

Prof. Francesco Leri was on CBC Kitchener-Waterloo on March 4  discussing his latest research study that uncovers why environmental cues are such powerful triggers for people fighting drug addiction.

The psychology professor spoke with host Craig Norris about the role of biology when it comes to kicking a drug habit.

Leri’s latest study, which he co-authored with Prof. Boyer Winters, reveals for the first time what’s going on in the brain when someone walks past a customary lighting-up spot or sees drug-taking paraphernalia that makes quitting the habit even harder.

Besides triggering the brain’s emotional and stimulus-response systems (“see smoking area, smoke, feel good”), the researchers found environmental cues activate brain areas where memories are processed. That creates a double whammy effect where classic stimulus-response mechanisms are reinforced by the memory effects of environmental drug cues. This one-two effect makes it harder to treat drug abuse, but the same finding may offer a way to use these cues to improve cognitive behavioural therapy.