Dopamine is the neurotransmitter in the brain that plays a big role in how we feel pleasure. It’s also in charge of how we think and plan. It helps us remember things that are pleasurable, like good food and drinks, and motivates us to repeat the behaviors that will keep us alive and happy. The big question is, what role does dopamine play in addiction?
When you begin using a drug it elevates the dopamine levels much more than natural rewards do; this is what causes addiction. This is because dopamine bursts motivate us and make us happy. When something causes happiness and pleasure, as humans, we go out of our way to keep that feeling going.
Is Dopamine Addictive
A common misconception is that people are addicted to dopamine or the release of dopamine in their brains. This is understandable because when we take drugs or do an activity that releases dopamine, we feel pleasure and happiness. Thus, making us want to continue feeling this way. However, it is still the drug or the activity that is causing the release and these euphoric feelings, which is the underlying source of the behaviors.
Dopamine is a Motivator
Although dopamine is not the sole cause of addiction it does motivate the user to continue the behavior. The reward center of our brains, which is responsible for the release of dopamine during a pleasurable experience, is closely linked to memory and motivation.
When we experience pleasure through drugs, eating great food, or creating art our brains begin associating these feelings and emotions with these activities. Once these activities and emotions are linked they become motivators to repeat whatever behavior is associated with pleasure. Thus, creating an addiction.
What Substances Increase Dopamine Output
There are specific types of substances that increase the amount of dopamine that is released by the neurons in the brain. These include:
When any of these drugs are used, the brain begins to overstimulate, causing a release of dopamine. Thus, producing a euphoric or pleasurable effect that rewards and reinforces the user’s behavior. Now that our brain associates the feeling of pleasure and happiness with the use of a drug, we are more likely to continue using the drug to achieve similar feelings.
Dopamine and Drug Tolerance
What exactly is drug tolerance? Drug tolerance occurs when a person no longer responds to a drug like they did the first use because of continual abuse. Thus, resulting in the user taking a higher dose to feel the same effects as they did when they first tried the drug. Dopamine plays a role in this process.
Overstimulation in our brain’s reward center occurs when we consistently abuse a drug. Our brain pathways become overwhelmed by the high levels of dopamine being released. Once this happens, our brain tries to adapt by solving this issue. One way our brains try and solve this problem is by decreasing the production of dopamine, or by reducing dopamine receptors.
Both of these changes to the brain result in the substance having less of an effect because the response by the brain’s reward center trying to fix the problem. In turn, causing a drug tolerance with the same strong craving. This results in the addiction becoming more serious because to feel the same effect, higher doses are taken to satisfy the cravings.
Find Help Now
If you are struggling to find help with your addiction contact the Harm Reduction Center in South Florida for resources. At the Harm Reduction Center, we offer intensive outpatient programs, medication-assisted treatment options, and more. We also offer resources to help your loved ones support you through this journey. Our team of board-certified medical professionals is here to help you through the cravings, withdrawal symptoms and break free from your addiction.
We know that addiction and treatment look different for every individual who walks through our doors. This is why we strive to create individualized treatment plans for every client that works with you and your lifestyle. For more information visit the Harm Reduction Center website and make the first steps towards your path to freedom.