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Addicted Brain: Dopamine and Substance Abuse

Aug 13, 2019 09:20 AM EDT
Addicted Brain: Dopamine and Substance Abuse

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People suffering from addiction are not always eager to go to rehab centers to treat their addiction. They may feel insecure, scared of judgments or just not motivated enough. Naturally, it's hard to admit that their problem is that serious. But still, most addicts seek help or at least guidance. Moreover, their relatives and friends may have a lack of information on this problem. They often don't know the symptoms and consequences of addiction or ways to help an addict. In this case, a good option would be to call AddictionResource substance abuse hotline and obtain all the necessary information. Workers of drug addict help hotline can provide full information on addiction treatment and support those who are in need.

What are neurotransmitters?

Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that transmit signals between neurons. So they maintain communication between brain cells. Neurotransmitters play a crucial role in the body and brain functioning as they help to regulate almost all the systems. Their functions are numerous: movement and coordination, appetite levels, memory and learning, thinking, reward processing, sexual desire and many others.

The very first neurotransmitter to be discovered was acetylcholine. This chemical plays a crucial role in the peripheral nervous system as it helps us to make movements. Moreover, it plays a major role in the central nervous system. This neurotransmitter is responsible for maintaining cognitive functions. Another important chemical in the central nervous system is glutamate. It is vital for memory and learning. Glycine, which is primarily found in the spinal cord, is a kind of amino acid that takes part in creating muscle tissues and converting glucose into energy. Furthermore, it is essential for keeping the nervous system healthy. Noradrenaline is an important monoamine in the sympathetic nervous system that helps to control blood pressure, heart rate and many other functions. Another monoamine which is vital for the nervous system is serotonin. It is involved in functions such as sleep, memory, appetite and mood regulation. In addition, it is also produced in the gastrointestinal tract as a response to food intake. One more monoamine that is necessary for metabolism is histamine. Among its other functions are temperature control, hormone regulation, and sleep-wake cycle control.

Different types of drugs make a different impact on neurotransmitters but they all hijack the functions of these brain chemicals and inhibit the way they perform.

How drugs impact neurotransmitters?

As drugs disrupt communication between transmitters, it diminishes the ability to think clearly and make rational decisions. Stimulant drugs such as cocaine, amphetamines, and methamphetamine cause an overproduction of neurotransmitters that prevent them from being normally reabsorbed. It causes a big amount of these chemicals released in the brain at once. Drugs like ecstasy influence the natural way of how neurotransmitters are transported along the brain's pathways. Another type of drugs such as heroin, opioids or marijuana mimic chemicals of the brain and bind to receptors that leads to neurons activation. Constant drug abuse can rewire the brain as it struggles to keep chemical balance. ASAM (The American Society of Medicine) gives the definition of addiction as not only a behavioral disorder, but also as a brain illness the makes an impact on brain chemistry which causes compulsive drug usage. When an individual suffers from addiction neurotransmitters like dopamine or serotonin are produced, transmitted or absorbed in a wrong way.

Addict's neurons are damaged so their normal functioning is blocked. Thus it gets difficult to feel pleasure from things that had been enjoyable before drug intake. Obviously, pleasure is an important element of psychological well-being and mental health. Everybody strives for more positive emotions and satisfaction. To experience pleasure, one needs to have high levels of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is released when we get pleasure from different activities that are pleasant for us. They are not necessarily complicated but can be just normal physiological activities like eating, physical exercises, sex. Dopamine bursts is a normal brain function that happens automatically at certain regular intervals. This neurotransmitter plays a vital role in our lives as it is responsible for our motivation and feeling of happiness. But addictive substances increase dopamine output which leads to its dramatic decrease in the absence of stimulative drugs over some time. How does it happen?

Some drugs change the flow of neurotransmitters and some of them alter the signals of receptors in the brain. It's important to note that these changes take place for people who take drugs for a certain period of time and have developed an addiction, whereas short-term use of substances produces the same effect but brain functioning returns to normal one quickly. Drug abusers have more permanent changes in the brain as the brain cant produce that amount of dopamine causing pleasure anymore.

How does addiction hijack dopamine output?

Addicts commonly say that they need to take substances to "feel okay" and they are right. It is hard to understand for people who have never faced this problem but drug abuse sensitizes or desensitizes brain receptors depending on the type of drug. It happens because a person starts building up a tolerance to a substance. Over time they need more of the drug to get the same positive emotions that once occurred naturally as it breaks normal dopamine release. As a result, people calling an addiction helpline complain that they lose motivation, feel sad or depressed and can't function physically and mentally as effective as before. Long-term drug abuse hijacks addict's brain and starts controlling emotions, motivation and mood. Despite the fact that extreme drug overuse can change the brain structure and behavior, proper treatment at drug rehab can diminish these negative changes. Of course, it is difficult to rewire an addicted brain and get back to normal functioning, but it's possible to do under the guidance of professional medical staff. A proper treatment must include both psychotherapy and medications. The mix of these two can return can help to balance dopamine levels and return it to normal functioning again. To find a good rehab and get more information on treatment, you can call a free drug addiction hotline.

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