Every New Year, millions of people make New Year’s resolutions and many of them involve trying to break addictions. From stopping smoking to quitting drinking to cutting out sweets or foods that are high in fat, Americans love the idea of a fresh start on January 1st, a clean break from those persistent pleasures that keep us enslaved all year long.

According to statisticbrain.com, only 8% of those who make New Year’s resolutions are successful. This begs the question: why aren’t we good at keeping those promises to ourselves?

Science may have the answer. When we are addicted, the midbrain (where addiction resides) becomes more powerful than the prefrontal cortex (where we make rational decisions like New Year’s Resolutions). According to Dr. Gary Lange, when the addictive craving arises sometime after that midnight celebration on New Year’s Eve, our prior commitment to stop an addictive behavior is invisible to us.

Does this mean that most of us are hopeless in the New Year when it comes to promises to quit? The answer may depend on how we look at quitting. When we use willpower or make a rational decision to stop a behavior, we are engaging only the prefrontal cortex part of the brain. But it’s the midbrain that is mostly responsible for addictive cravings. In order to beat that addiction, we need to be focused on methods that target the midbrain.

Thankfully, new approaches to addiction treatment are offering hope. As scientists are discovering the vital role the midbrain plays in addiction, they are working towards developing new medications that target that area of the brain. No such drugs have been developed, but the research is well on its way.

Mindfulness is emerging as a new and effective way to target the midbrain. Through mindfulness, people don’t try that think themselves out of addiction using the prefrontal cortex. Instead, they simply witness thoughts come and go in a non-judgmental way. They actually witness the midbrain in action without having to indulge in its every whim. This provides the opportunity to let go of addictive cravings as soon as they arise.


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