This video, “Nuggets” is a five-minute animation created by a German animation studio. The video begins with a bird casually strolling along before stumbling upon a golden nugget. The bird’s interest is piqued and so he drinks up the liquid inside. It’s instant euphoria, and with it, the bird can suddenly fly for a short while. When he drinks up the next one, he finds it is not the same. It doesn’t last as long, and his landing is more of a crash. Nevertheless, now the bird is no longer casually strolling, but running to get the next hit with ever diminishing returns. The concept of this video captures the heartbreaking reality of addiction. It explains the initial lure, the tunnel vision that follows, and the practically inevitable conclusion. There are many ways we can look at this short clip as addiction. I am going to focus on the Hedonic Dysregulation theory and the Incentive Sensitization Theory.
The Hedonic Dysregulation Theory is solely based on negative emotion or affects, leading it to have negative reinforcement framework. This theory doesn’t have the need to obtain homeostasis and there is no given set point, meaning that there is no need for a stable equilibrium between interdependent elements as well as no set starting point of the drug effects. The body responds to stressors in order to regain homeostasis, this is called allostasis. It has a changing set point in response to the environment it’s in. Given that there is the absence of this, and homeostasis does not need to be met, making an individual increasingly unhappy and unfulfilled, even when they are not using. These low feelings don’t go away for a long time. Alike the opponent process theory, there are still the ‘A’ and ‘B’ components.
‘A’ being the high you feel, driven by brain reward systems, and ‘B’ is what comes after that high feeling you get from A. With ‘A’, ‘B’ will always follow. This is also what leaves an individual feeling depressed in this theory, in other words, dysphoria. When you first start to take a drug, you can get that pure ‘A’ sense. The baseline is still positive at this point. After that initial high you will never achieve that feeling again, although most people are unaware of this theory and try for it anyway. This leads to those low feelings of an individual because as you continue to use to look for that high your baseline and mood set points get continuously lower. While they are searching to feel happy again, they are spiraling into lower and lower moods. We can apply this to the animation video “Nuggets” by thinking the bird as the individual or victim.
He starts with this ‘A’ process feeling, feeling super good. Therefore, he runs across another nugget that makes him feel good and he wants to feel like that again, so he drinks up that one as well. In this short film after every time he drinks up the golden nugget the background and his surroundings become darker and darker, we can compare this to the decreasing baseline and mood set points. From his actions, tone, and lighting in the film, we can tell his mood becomes worse after each intake and never gets back to the happiness he felt before taking the substance. Unlike the Hedonic Dysregulation theory, the Incentive Sensitization theory has to do with becoming sensitized to drugs and their cues due to incentive salience. In other words, rewards are both ‘liked’ and ‘wanted’, and those two words seem almost interchangeable.
However, the brain circuitry that mediates the psychological process of ‘wanting’ a reward is dissociable from circuitry that mediates the degree to which it is ‘liked’. Incentive salience or ‘wanting’, is generated by neural systems in the brain that includes mesolimbic dopamine. This explains the wanting sensation even if an individual is no longer receiving pleasure from the drug. Repeated use leads to an increase of reinforcing properties, the greater the urge is to use the drug. Because of this, the sensory input in the brain can activate even when it is not in a need state. For example, the sight of an influencer can lead to craving. In “Nuggets”, the bird can also be going through this biopsychological theory. He is continuously wanting this substance directly after the first time he drinks it. There are cues from his surroundings that could also influence this want, such as that he is constantly walking on the same path where he originally found the substance.
He also craves the sensation still after it does not give him the high that he hopes for. His repeated use leads him running after the next dose which we can be compared to the increase of urge for the substance and reinforcing properties as a result of repeated use. The short film “Nuggets” accurately represents the cycle of addiction and drug use. The Hedonic Dysregulation Theory, the Incentive Sensitization Theory, and even more ideas of addiction can be applied to this video showing that it is a good representation of the models of addiction. Many individuals going through these processes are unaware of their realities which is why it is important to understand the meaning behind this short film as well as the theories themselves.
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