Physiological regulation is so fundamental to survival that natural selection has greatly favored the evolution of robust regulatory systems that use both reactive and preemptive responses to mitigate the disruptive impact of biological and environmental challenges on physiological function. In good health, robust regulatory systems provide little insight into the typically hidden complex array of sensor-effector interactions that accomplish successful regulation. Numerous health disorders have been traced to defective regulatory mechanisms, and generations of scientists have worked to discover ways to correct these defects and restore normal physiological function. Despite progress, numerous chronic health disorders remain resistant to treatment, and indeed for some disorders the incidence is increasing. We propose that an individual’s susceptibility to acquire certain persistent dysregulatory disorders can be traced to interindividual variation in how that individual’s regulatory system responds to challenges. Preexisting reliable individual differences among regulatory systems are typically unrecognized until appropriate regulatory challenges (e.g., exposure to a drug of abuse) lead to dysregulation (e.g., drug addiction). Specific characteristics of an individual’s regulatory responsiveness may include etiological factors that participate in the acquisition, escalation and maintenance of health disorders characterized by dysregulation. By appropriately challenging a healthy individual’s regulatory systems to identify its underlying characteristics, it is possible to ascertain whether an individual has an elevated risk for acquiring a dysregulated health condition and thereby enable strategies designed to prevent, rather than treat, the condition. This model is applied to drug addiction, and in addition we relate this approach to other dysregulated conditions such as obesity. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2020 APA, all rights reserved).

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