Our brains are malleable, ever-changing, and influenced by many things. This can be both good and bad. Our decisions on what to put into our body and how to take care of it impact our brains. For those making healthy decisions, the brain grows stronger and stronger. For those who use substances in an unhealthy manner, the brain gets used to that, too. Luckily, the cliché, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” doesn’t apply to our minds. Our brains can change their structure and functioning as we make changes, too.
Pleasure and reward
Everyone nurtures their pleasure and reward system — some do so in healthy ways, while others with not-so-healthy habits. The brain uses the pleasure and reward pathway to seek out activities that increase survival. This includes most notably the ability to eat healthy foods and drink enough water. When your body’s pleasure and reward pathway is activated as you eat and drink, your brain releases dopamine to tell your body that it likes that activity. This will encourage your brain to repeat this activity. Your brain’s memory center, the hippocampus, remembers the dopamine you got when you nurtured your body by eating and drinking. You then in the future will desire to do that activity again. This is all fine and good when the activities you are doing are positive and healthy. Your brain, however, doesn’t have control over repeating these activities when the actions are harmful.
For those with substance use disorders, they become addicted to drugs or alcohol because the brain uses the same pleasure and reward system as it does for food and water. Substances like alcohol and drugs essentially hijack the brain into thinking that they are needed for survival. In addition to the pleasure and reward system, the cerebral cortex is also impacted. The cerebral cortex plays a role in memory, attention, thought, and consciousness. When someone consumes a substance like alcohol or drugs, the reward system floods the brain with dopamine. This time, however, the dopamine released is an extremely high amount that produces a quick sense of satisfaction. The hippocampus (memory center) remembers this once again, and this is when addiction begins to form. Other places in your brain also recognize the use of the substance. The prefrontal cortex helps you to seek out the substance by craving it, which is the job of the amygdala.
So, why do substances become addictive?
The dopamine released with substances such as alcohol or drugs is intense and quick. Addictive drugs are known to release two to ten times the amount of dopamine that natural rewards do, such as food or water. The dopamine release is also done quicker and more reliably. Tolerance is also a significant factor in developing an addiction. When alcohol or drugs repeatedly overstimulate the brain, the dopamine released becomes less while the amount ingested remains the same. Because of the smaller release of dopamine, the original amount of the ingested substance does not give the same reward that it did before. This makes the individual who is addicted want more of the substance than they had been using before. They then increase their dosage. They must keep increasing their dosage to fend off withdrawal symptoms.
Pinnacle Recovery wants to help you learn more about your brain and body so that you can learn to get past your addiction. We have many different treatment options available for you. Call today to see how you can be helped at 1-866-301-0573. We can’t wait to hear from you!