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Fraser Trevor Fraser Trevor Author
Title: How Alcohol Addiction Develops.The impact of the excessively high levels of dopamine on the brain is so powerful that the brain must find a way to adapt to these powerful surges.
Author: Fraser Trevor
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The impact of the excessively high levels of dopamine on the brain is so powerful that the brain must find a way to adapt to these powe...
Dopamine Pathways. In the brain, dopamine play...
The impact of the excessively high levels of dopamine on the brain is so powerful that the brain must find a way to adapt to these powerful surges. One of the ways that it does so is by desensitizing itself or reducing the number of dopamine receptors at the synapse and reducing the amount of dopamine it releases. This results in what we call "tolerance." Once the feelings of pleasure have dissipated, it will now require more of the drug to achieve the same results. The more often you use the drug, the more sensitized your receptors become and the more drugs you require to get high. Alcohol addiction is developing.
With repeated use of a drug, the neurons, which are where the neurotransmitters like dopamine reside, in the brain become dependent upon the drug -— they can no longer function normally without it. The brain no longer produces or releases the essential neurotransmitters that allow us to feel pleasure on its own. When this happens, the user feels depressed and unable to experience pleasure in activities that used to be enjoyable to them and they experience withdrawal symptoms when the drug is not in their system and, thus, they will use again in order to feel better. They now need and crave the drug of abuse to simply bring their dopamine levels back to normal.
Over time, as the brain is forced to continue to adapt to alcohol or drugs, the other areas of the brain outside the reward pathway become affected. The circuitry of the brain that is responsible for memory, learning and judgment becomes hardwired to perform addictive behavior almost innately. It disrupts crucial brain structures that are critical for controlling behavior, especially behaviors related specifically to alcohol or drugs. It erodes one’s ability to display self-control and make good decisions. Thus, the drug user is now a drug addict. In the case of alcoholism, alcohol addiction is now full blown.
The faster a substance reaches the brain’s reward pathway, the more addiction potential it holds. The quickest route to deliver a drug to the brain is through smoking it and, thus, why substances like crack cocaine and cigarettes are so highly addictive. The second fastest route is through injection, while the third quickest is snorting or sniffing and the least quick is ingestion.
This is why many people advance from one addiction to another. They start out with sugar, caffeine or cigarettes. As the brain adapts and needs more and more to get the same feeling, sugar no longer does the trick, so they move on to cigarettes, after a while cigarettes no longer provides the same relief, so they move on to alcohol. After a while alcohol no longer does the trick and they move on to cocaine and so on and so on.
Although we're talking about alcohol addiction on this page, the process of addiction I've described applies to any addiction regardless of the substance or activity. They flood the brain with neurotransmitters that makes us feel good. Over time this destroys the neurons, then the brain doesn't produce neurotransmitters adequately anymore, the brain needs more and more to function normally. Any substance or activity that stimulates the reward pathway has the potential to be addictive, particularly to brains that are already vulnerable.
This process is also true of serotonin, GABA and endorphins. Alcohol also stimulates a large surge in these neurotransmitters, which leads to depletion and dependence on alcohol to function adequately. Thus resulting in cravings to bring them back to normal and alleviate symptoms like anxiety, depression and irritability.
Additionally, alcohol and all psychotropic substances, mimic our natural neurotransmitters, meaning they can occupy the receptors, which tricks the brain into thinking it has too many and thus it quits producing them. This leaves the brain dependent upon the alcohol or other addictive substances to perform the duties of the impaired neurotransmitter.
It’s also important to note, that the fact that neurotransmitters and the reward pathway are at the root of alcohol addiction, and addiction in general, is not my opinion or a theory or concept that I created. It is what science has found to be true and even NIDA, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, is teaching this basic concept. I encourage you to visit the following sites and learn more about the science of alcohol addiction.
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