Since addiction is widely acknowledged as a disease that affects the brain, it stands to reason that neurochemistry plays a large part in how people develop a dependence and tolerance towards a given substance. The exact mechanisms of how addiction develops are still largely unknown, but researchers are getting a clearer picture of addiction’s development over time.
With its connection to the brain’s reward center, the neurotransmitter known as dopamine is thought to play a key role in addiction. DrugAbuse.gov notes that past research found that surges of dopamine cause the euphoria associated with drugs, but newer research indicates it is more likely to deal with habit formation. Nevertheless, dopamine remains a key part of the puzzle that is addiction.
Dopamine’s Role in the Brain
DrugAbuse.gov describes how neurotransmitters like dopamine are responsible for relaying messages to other neuronal networks or parts of the brain or body. Specific neurotransmitters have specialized roles. Dopamine, for example, has certain “pathways” in the brain that are tied to our sense of pleasure, reward, and accomplishment, as well as “movement, attention, learning, and emotional responses”. Dopamine is released in our brains whenever we accomplish something, communicating to our brain that a given activity should be remembered or repeated in the future. Dopamine thus plays a central role in habit formation.
How Do Drugs Affect the Brain?
DrugAbuse.gov notes that drugs interfere with how neuronal messages are sent, received, and interpreted. Drug use provokes the brain to release a great deal of dopamine, “powerfully reinforcing the connection between consumption of the drug, the resulting pleasure, and all the external cues linked to the experience.” Research, noting how dopamine cells are activated powerfully by drugs, points to how “dopamine rushes” typical of drug use “further [strengthen] conditioned learning and [produce] automatic behaviors” in the form of “compulsions and habits”. Dopamine “contributes to addiction by disrupting the frontal cortical circuits that regulate motivation, drive, and self-control,” and similarly affects memory circuits that can be activated when cravings for a drug arise.
New Findings on Dopamine and Addiction
One recent study contradicts the previous medical theory on dopamine’s role in addiction. A 2011 study found that “in addicted subjects, drug-induced dopamine increases are blunted compared with the response to drug-conditioned cues.” In other words, the brains of addicts produce strong urges that are only partially fulfilled by drug use, driving addicts to use more and more in an effort to “achieve the expected reward.” The study also found fewer dopamine receptors in the brains of addicts, which could explain low emotional control and decision making and “contribute to the compulsive drug use and loss of control in addiction.”
Getting Treatment for Your Drug Addiction
Addiction’s effects on the brain often make professional help crucial for a person to achieve lasting recovery. New strategies must be learned to cope with cravings, develop impulse control, and create healthier responses to stress that address a given problem rather than avoid it with substance abuse.
Granite Recovery Centers has 11 NH drug rehab centers offering substance abuse recovery programs that uniquely combine the structure and methods of 12-step work with proven clinical treatments from caring, professional staff. With therapy, step work, relapse prevention planning, life skills development, and other forms of recovery work, Granite Recovery Centers will help you or your loved one beat addiction and achieve a healthier, happier life.