Addiction is a deeply misunderstood occurrence in the mind. Societal norms and cultural standards sadly contribute to the prevalence of stigma and shame surrounding addiction. Until recent years, addiction has been viewed through a lens of immorality. Addicts are people who have lost their way due to the consequence of their own choices. Partially, this is true. However, the progression and development of addiction in the brain is largely the consequence of neurobiology. Understanding how addiction works in the brain through the scope of neuroscience can help us to put aside our manufactured beliefs and open our hearts. Addiction is, if nothing else, and experience of suffering. Though largely based in pleasure, addiction is a carousel ride of up’s and down’s, that never stops spinning.
It starts with a substance. Drugs are chemicals that interact and interfere with the brain’s normal functions, which is largely run on certain chemicals. Specifically, the brain works off of neurons and neurotransmitters, as well as receptors and synapses. Drugs create chemical reactions in the brain that stimulate the production of certain neurotransmitters, block receptors, and change what is communicated between synapses. Primarily, it is the message of pleasure that throws the system off balance.
Pleasure and Addiction in the Brain
Pleasure is the primary purpose of the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine lives in the reward center of the brain. The reward center is a small circuit that communicates what feels good, motivation, to the rest of the brain. When drugs in the bloodstream reach the brain, they produce a copious amount of dopamine, overwhelming the reward center. Too much dopamine creates a mega-pleasure: euphoria. Euphoria feels extremely good to the brain, motivating it to feel euphoria again and again. Associating the action of taking drugs with euphoric sensations, the brain records this event for future reference. Each time the brain finds itself needing to be motivated, it is going to think about drugs.
This is where the ride stops being fun. Pleasure from drugs only lasts so long. The brain quickly develops tolerance. It needs more of the drug to feel as euphoric as it did before. More drugs creates more memories of euphoria. As the brain learns to associate euphoria and motivation, it becomes the only motivation. Eventually, the drugs hardly work, but the brain is convinced of their necessity. Trapped in a cycle of demand, the body fails to sustain the brain’s demands, resulting in symptoms of withdrawal.
Enlightened Solutions understands the struggle in breaking free from the endless cycle of suffering in drug addiction and alcoholism. We offer a program rooted in twelve step philosophy and holistic healing as a solution for mind, body, and spirit.