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Your Brain on Drugs

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The editors at Best Rehab Counseling Degrees decided to research the topic of:

Your Brain on Drugs

Nearly 23 million Americans (almost 1 in 10) are addicted to alcohol or other drugs.

- More than two-thirds of people with addiction abuse alcohol.
- The top three drugs causing addiction are marijuana, opioid (narcotic) pain relievers, and cocaine.
- The word "addiction" is derived from a Latin term for "enslaved by" or "bound to."

How the Brain Registers pleasure

- The brain registers all pleasures in the same way (examples: psychoactive drug, a monetary reward, a sexual encounter, or a satisfying meal)
- Here's what happens in the brain when you feel pleasure:
- Dopamine, a neurotransmitter, is released in the nucleus accumbens (aka the brain's pleasure center by neuroscientists), which is a cluster of nerve cells
- The hippocampus lays down memories of this rapid sense of satisfaction, and the amygdala creates a conditioned response to certain stimuli.
- dopamine interacts with another neurotransmitter, glutamate, to take over the brain's system of reward-related learning.
- The reward circuit in the brain includes areas involved with motivation and memory as well as with pleasure.

The Addicted Brain

- Addictive drugs provide a shortcut to the brain's reward system by flooding the nucleus accumbens with dopamine, overloading it
- once overloaded, the brain responds by eliminating (or making less) dopamine receptors (like when you turn down the volume when a noise is too loud); thus a drug has less impact on the brain's reward center.
- This is called tolerance: users need more to reach the same high

How are Drugs Different from other pleasure-inducing events?

- In nature, reward come with time and effort
- Addictive drugs release two to 10 times the amount of dopamine that natural rewards do, and they do it more quickly and more reliably.
- rate addiction has a direct relationship to the speed, intensity and reliability that a drug releases dopamine
- faster addiction: Smoking a drug or injecting it intravenously produces a faster, stronger dopamine signal
- slower addiction: As opposed to swallowing it as a pill
- In the addicted brain, nerve cells in the nucleus accumbens and the prefrontal cortex (planning and task execution part of the brain) to communicate
- thus, the desire for renewed pleasure motivates the user to actively seek the substance out

When Compulsion takes over

- the memory of the desired effect of a drug persists after it has worn off - creating the desire to recreate it
- Learned addiction: The hippocampus and the amygdala store information about environmental cues associated with the desired substance, so that it can be located again.
- so seeing a syringe or an empty bottle of beer can trigger the desire
- Conditioned learning helps explain why people who develop an addiction risk relapse even after years of abstinence.

Addicted Lab Rats

- Rats addicted to cocaine would choose the drug over food and sleep, eventually dying from exhaustion or starvation
- A rat that has remained clean--even for months--will immediately return to its bar-pressing behavior when placed in a cage it associates with a drug high

Hack Your Brain

- Researchers have found that a brain with a history of alcoholism will release dopamine when taking just one 15 mL drink of beer over 15 minutes.
- You don't have to get drunk to get that 'feel good' feeling!
- Studies show addicts are more likely to relapse when faced with environmental triggers that remind the addict of their substance of choice - so avoid these triggers!
- Natural, safe ways to increase your dopamine level: green tea, sex, laughing