What do you know about dopamine? Why is it associated with addiction? What effects does it have on our body? This article aims to answer such questions. The term “dopamine rush” can be used to describe the flood of pleasure that comes from making a new purchase or finding a $20 bill on the floor. Experts are investigating exactly how the neurotransmitter dopamine works in the context of addiction. Many experts believe that dopamine trains the brain to avoid unpleasant experiences and seek pleasurable ones. However, the role that dopamine plays in addiction is complex and not yet fully understood.
A common misconception about people with addictions is that they are actually addicted to dopamine rather than to drugs or certain activities. Feel-good experiences, such as taking drugs, activate your brain’s reward center, which responds by releasing dopamine. So your brain can focus its attention on more experiences. As a result, a strong feeling of pleasure remains. This strong memory allows you to make an effort to relive it by using drugs or seeking out certain experiences. However, the underlying source is drugs or activities, contrary to popular belief.
It is thought that motivational features play a role in addiction, but dopamine is not the only cause of addiction. The reward center in your brain releases dopamine in response to pleasurable experiences, and this part of your brain is also closely linked to memory and motivation. This process does not always contain harmful substances or activities. Eating well, having sex, making art, and a host of other things can trigger similar responses from your brain’s reward center.
Dopamine addiction is not just about chemicals. Especially in recent years, addictions to technological tools and social media have prevented this. An example of this is the panic you experience when you lose your phone until it is found. About 73% of people claim to experience this unique flavor of anxiety; this makes sense considering that adults in the US spend an average of 2-4 hours a day touching, typing and swiping their devices; 2,600 daily touches. Most people are so intertwined with their digital lives that sometimes they can feel it vibrating even when they don’t have it in their pockets.
Dopamine As The Pleasure Chemical
Dopamine has been referred to as the “pleasure chemical.” The term derives from the misconception that dopamine is directly responsible for feelings of euphoria or pleasure. Dopamine contributes to the feeling of pleasure. But according to experts, it has nothing to do with creating pleasurable emotions. But it helps reinforce pleasurable sensations and behaviors by connecting the things that make you feel good with the desire to do them again. This connection is an important factor in the development of addiction. Neurotransmitters that cause feelings of pleasure or euphoria include:
The human brain contains four major dopamine “pathways,” or connections between different parts of the brain that act as highways for chemical messages called neurotransmitters. Each pathway has its own associated cognitive and motor (movement) processes. Three of these pathways—the mesocortical, mesolimbic, and nigrostriatal pathways—are considered our “reward pathways” and have been shown to be dysfunctional in most cases of addiction. They are responsible for the release of dopamine in various parts of the brain, which shapes the activity of those areas. The fourth, the tuberoinfundibular pathway, regulates the release of a hormone called prolactin that is required for milk production.
Even if you consume the same amount of addictive chemicals, you have developed a tolerance to the drug at the point where you stop feeling the effects of the drug as before. If you develop a tolerance to a substance, you will need to use more of it to feel the effects you are used to. Dopamine plays a role in this process. Regular drug use eventually leads to overstimulation in the reward center. His pathways become overwhelmed, making it difficult for him to cope with the high dopamine levels being released.
The brain tries to solve this problem in two ways:
- Reduce dopamine production
- Reducing dopamine receptors
Both changes usually cause the substance to have less effect due to the weaker response of the brain’s reward center. However, the desire to use remains, and more medication is needed to satisfy this desire.
Addiction is a complex brain disorder with no single, definitive cause. Dopamine plays an important role in addiction, but it is a small piece of a larger puzzle. Experts believe that a number of biological and environmental factors can significantly increase one’s risk of addiction.
Some of these biological factors are:
- Genes. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, about 40 to 60 percent of the risk of addiction is due to genetic factors.
- Health history. Having a history of certain medical conditions, especially mental health conditions, can increase your risk.
- Developmental stage. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, using drugs as a teenager increases your risk of addiction later on.
Environmental factors, especially for children and teenagers, include:
- Domestic life. Living with or near people who abuse drugs can increase the risk.
- Social influences. Having friends who take drugs can make you try them and potentially develop an addiction.
- Difficulties at school. Having trouble socially or academically can increase your risk of trying drugs and eventually developing an addiction.
If you or someone close to you is addicted, you should get help to get rid of it. The first step in getting help is to reach out. You should talk to your healthcare provider about addiction treatment. If you’re not comfortable with this, there are many organizations that can help without having to see your primary care provider:
- The National Institute of Drug Abuse Trusted Source offers resources to help you decide if you’re ready to seek help.
- The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has a treatment services locator and phone numbers for national helplines.
Addiction treatment often includes medical care, especially if drug abuse is affecting your health or you need to detox safely. But talk therapy is also an important part of addiction treatment, whether the addiction is related to drugs, alcohol, or a specific behavior. Typically, therapy is the primary treatment for behavioral addictions such as compulsive gambling or shopping.