Connect with us

Addictive Substances Trick The Brain –

AdobeStock

Recovery Answers

Addictive Substances Trick The Brain –

Our wonderful brain, Adobe

Addictive Substances Trick The Brain –

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The brain can experience pleasure from all sorts of things we like to do in life; eat a piece of cake, have a sexual encounter, play a video game. The way the brain signals pleasure is through the release of a neurotransmitter (a chemical messenger) called dopamine into the nucleus accumbens, the brains pleasure center.

This is generally a good thing; it ensures that people will seek out things needed for survival. But, drugs of misuse such as nicotine, alcohol, and heroin also cause the release of dopamine in the nucleus accumbens, and in some cases, these drugs cause much more dopamine release than natural, non-drug rewards.

images

Substances Trick The Brain's Reward System

Addictive drugs can provide a shortcut to the brains reward system by flooding the nucleus accumbens with dopamine. And, addictive drugs can release two to 10 times the amount of dopamine that natural rewards do, and they do it more quickly and more reliably (helpguide.org).

When Tolerance Develops People Need More

Over time, drugs become less rewarding, and craving for the drug takes over. The brain adapts to the effects of the drug (an effect known as tolerance), and because of these brain adaptations, dopamine has less impact. People who develop an addiction find that the drug no longer gives them as much pleasure as it used to, and that they have to take greater amounts of the drug more frequently to feel high.

Below is a picture (helpguide.org) of the brain and the nucleus accumbens, in addition to some other brain regions that are affected by addition.

Brain Image

And, here is a picture from Recovery Research Institute's own research of the brain activated by alcohol (Gilman et al., 2008). The nucleus accumbens is activated.

Brain Image

There is a distinction between liking and wanting the drug; as over time, the liking decreases and the wanting increases. Individuals with a substance use disorder continue to seek and use the substance despite the negative consequences and tremendous problems caused for themselves and for their loved ones,  because the substance allows them to simply feel normal.

Liking vs craving graph

Insta


coloring book purple pic

Comments

mm

Founded in 2012 by Dr. John F. Kelly, the Recovery Research Institute is a team of highly innovative and rigorously trained scientists working through research, education, and outreach, to enhance recovery through science. As an entity of Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, the institute is known as a leader in the scientific investigation of substance use disorder mechanisms and processes.

More in Recovery Answers

To Top
Sign Up for the Reach Out Recovery Newsletter