Addiction Treatment

Dopamine and the Brain’s Reward System

Written By:

Becky Babb

Dopamine and the Brain’s Reward System

    At some point in man’s evolution and history, dopamine played a key role in assuring the survival of the species. When early man experienced something that we now recognize as pleasurable, his brain would release the dopamine neurotransmitter, which would then course through his body and create sensations of pleasure. Dopamine would be released when early man ate something that he found appetizing or engaged in pleasurable activities. Man ultimately developed a capacity for reason that allowed him to distinguish good from bad, but his dopamine reward system remained with him and continued to flood his body with pleasure-inducing dopamine when he engaged in certain activities.This dopamine reward system still has benefits when man’s logic and reason have insufficient information to determine if something is good. Dopamine also creates conditions in a man’s body and brain that lead to chemical and behavioral addictions. When first ingested, chemical substances such as opiates, methamphetamines and alcohol cause a release of dopamines that give a person sensations of euphoria. Drugs and alcohol have been shown to cause a release of two to ten times the amount of dopamine that is released when a person experiences a naturally enjoyable activity. This massive dopamine release causes a drug or alcohol abuser to shun naturally enjoyable activities in favor of alcohol or his drug of choice, which generates stronger pleasure sensations. When those sensations wear off, that person retains an instinctive memory that directs him to find more of the substance which created the euphoria. That person’s brain and body eventually undergo chemical changes that facilitate intense cravings for the substance. The substance no longer generates euphoric feelings but only wards off the cravings. If those cravings are not satisfied, the person suffers extreme physical withdrawal symptoms that can last for days or weeks. Even after withdrawal symptoms subside, that person will continue to crave the mind-altering substance and, if those cravings are satisfied, he or she will quickly return to being addicted to the substance.Man’s dopamine reward system also plays a role in behavioral addictions, including addictions to gambling, shopping, sex, and the internet. These activities will cause a release of pleasure-inducing dopamines and will drive a person who is addicted to these behaviors to participate in them even though all pleasures that may have been associated with them have long since disappeared. Stopping the activity will not cause the severe withdrawal symptoms that a drug addict or alcoholic might experience, but a person who suffers from a behavioral addiction will often feel irritated, short-tempered, disoriented or anxious if they are unable to feed their behavioral addictions.Substance abusers and behavioral addicts can reverse the changes that alcohol, drugs, or destructive behavior have caused to their brains and bodies with the right plan of treatment. Each brain is unique and so is each need for addiction treatment. Last Resort Recovery Center creates individualized plans of treatment to best serve your journey of recovery. Please contact the Last Resort Recovery Center near Austin at 512-360-3600. We will answer your questions and help you with any substance or behavioral addictions.

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