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Fraser Trevor Fraser Trevor Author
Title: Alcoholism is a brain disorder.
Author: Fraser Trevor
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Dopamine Pathways. In the brain, dopamine plays an important role in the regulation of reward and movement. As part of the reward pathway...
Dopamine Pathways. In the brain, dopamine play...
Dopamine Pathways. In the brain, dopamine plays an important role in the regulation of reward and movement. As part of the reward pathway, dopamine is manufactured in nerve cell bodies located within the ventral tegmental area (VTA) and is released in the nucleus accumbens and the prefrontal cortex. Its motor functions are linked to a separate pathway, with cell bodies in the substantia nigra that manufacture and release dopamine into the striatum. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The reward pathway, also known as the mesolimbic pathway or the pleasure pathway, resides in the center of the brain and is what drives our feelings of motivation, reward and behavior. Its primary job is to make us feel good or “reward” us when we engage in behavior that is necessary for survival, such as eating, drinking water, being nurtured and procreating.
It’s also responsible for making sure that we repeat these behaviors over and over to ensure survival of the species. It achieves this goal by giving us feelings of pleasure when we engage in these behaviors. In other words, it reinforces behavior by giving us pleasurable rewards.
This pleasure is given by releasing neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers in the brain that make communication between nerve cells possible. The critical neurotransmitter involved in the reward pathway is dopamine. However, there are two other crucial brain pathways that make use of dopamine—the nigrostriatal pathway and the tuberoinfundibular pathway. It is these two pathways together with the reward pathway that make up the dopamine pathway. Therefore, any drug that impacts the reward pathway also impacts these other dopamine pathways as well.
All drugs, and remember alcohol is a drug, stimulate the dopamine pathway -- reward pathway. Some drugs work by stimulating the release of excess dopamine, while others block receptor sites; however, the end result is that the brain is flooded with high levels of dopamine. They also impact the serotonin pathway and other crucial neurotransmitters like GABA, glutamate, acetylcholine and endorphins, but we’ll be focusing mostly on dopamine.
GABA is our main inhibitory neurotransmitter. It works as a natural tranquilizer, stops us from being impulsive and prevents over stimulation and also plays a major role in alcohol addiction. Glutamate is important because it’s needed for most of the neurotransmission that takes place. People with imbalanced levels of GABA have problems with impulse control, anxiety, nervousness, restlessness and irritability to name only a few, while glutamate is associated with obsessive tendencies.
Serotonin plays a major role in mood, sleep, appetite, pain and regulating body temperature. It also contributes to good feelings of well-being and produces intense euphoria when overstimulated. People with anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and depression often have a problem in their serotonin and dopamine pathways. Both dopamine and serotonin are sometimes referred to as our “happy hormones.” Without them we feel empty and depressed, flat and lifeless.
Endorphins are the bodies built in natural pain reliever. They regulate emotional and physical pain and also influence mood, self-esteem, relaxation and feelings of well-being.
Dopamine gives us pleasurable feelings. It makes us feel good, confident, relaxed, and instills a heightened sense of overall well-being. It improves mood, alertness and libido. When it's overstimulated it produces intense euphoria.

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