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Fraser Trevor Fraser Trevor Author
Title: Understanding the science behind chemical dependency enables us to effectively address what may seem like the unfixable insanity of addiction, but in truth, is a treatable medical condition.
Author: Fraser Trevor
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Dopamine and serotonin pathways. (Photo credit: Wikipedia ) You have probably heard the quote, “Insanity is doing the same thing over ...
Dopamine and serotonin pathways.
Dopamine and serotonin pathways. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You have probably heard the quote, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.” Addiction is an excellent example of that. You abuse a substance hoping to recreate an earlier high, make yourself happier, or solve your problems, only to find yourself in the exact same place, or even a worse one, as all the times before. Why do we keep repeating a cycle that always ends poorly? Why does the insanity of addiction have such a hold on us? The exact answers to those questions will differ from person to person, but there are some fundamental scientific principles that explain what fuels your drug or alcohol addiction. Understanding them may help you break free from the grasp of your chemical dependency.

First of all, you must acknowledge that addiction is a chronic yet treatable brain disorder. Each time you engage in substance abuse you actually change the structure of your brain and alter how it functions. Your brain contains neurotransmitters and receptors that communicate with each other in order to “regulate and coordinate everything we feel, think, or do.” In the simplest of terms, neurotransmitters provide instructions and receptors carry those instructions out. Once these instructions have been communicated and received, transporters recycle the neurons involved with that particular set of instructions, so they can be used for the next time that particular set of instructions needs to be followed. Drugs, alcohol, and other chemical substances interfere with this process, however, and corrupt those messages.

One example of how this leads to physical impairment is dopamine. Among other things, dopamine controls our emotions, and most importantly, feelings of pleasure. Dopamine production occurs naturally when we do healthy but pleasurable things like eat or have sex. Drugs, however, artificially increase the level of dopamine in our brains and can release 2 to 10 times more dopamine than those normal activities. When your brain’s dopamine levels are elevated, you experience the euphoric feeling that makes drugs appealing. Such an intense, and in some cases longer lasting, feeling simply surpasses the pleasure caused by the naturally occurring levels of dopamine in our brain.

One of the downsides of excessive dopamine levels is that your body naturally readjusts and produces far less dopamine and devotes fewer receptors to your brain’s reward center. This can lead to abnormally low levels of dopamine and your ability to experience pleasure is compromised. This crash can manifest itself as depression and an inability to experience pleasure. In order to escape that feeling, substance abusers artificially introduce dopamine into their system to return to normal dopamine function and the more they do this, they need increasingly larger amounts to achieve the same effect. It is easy to see how this becomes a vicious cycle. We biologically require dopamine to function, but abusing substances breaks the part of our physical system that produces and regulates dopamine. Any attempts to alter that process on our own only further hinder our body’s ability to function.
Interfering with dopamine levels is merely one way to open the door to addiction.

Our inability to break the destructive patterns associated with substance abuse has its roots in biology. There are, of course, psychological and environmental factors as well, but understanding the science behind chemical dependency enables us to effectively address what may seem like the unfixable insanity of addiction, but in truth, is a treatable medical condition.

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