Rewarding The Brain: How Addictions Develop
The brain regulates temperature, emotion, decision-making, breathing, and coordination. This major organ of the body also impacts physical sensations in the body, cravings, compulsions, and habits. Under the influence of a powerful and harmful chemical, individuals abusing substances like Benzodiazepines or Heroin can alter the function of their brain.
Drugs interact with the limbic system in the brain to release strong feel-good emotions, affecting the individuals body and mind. Individuals continue taking drugs to support the intense feel-good emotions the brain releases this creates a cycle of drug use and intense highs. Eventually, they take the drug just to feel normal.
Key Brain Area Plays A Crucial Role In Addiction
New research finds that the cerebellum, a large part of the human brain that scientists thought was primarily involved in motor control, may play a key role in reward-seeking and social behaviors. The findings may help inform future therapies for treating addiction.
Recent research has hinted at the fact that, in addition to movement, the brains cerebellum may also help to control cognitive functions, such as language, learning, and attention.
Now, scientists at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in Bronx, NY, suggest that this area could also regulate reward-processing and addiction.
Kamran Khodakhah, Ph.D., who is a professor and chair of the Dominick P. Purpura Department of Neuroscience at Einstein, led the new study. The scientists conducted the study in mice.
Prof. Khodakhah and his team published their
How Does Addiction Develop
Our brain is in charge of various functions it regulates our emotions, breathing, temperature, coordination, and decision-making. Its in control of all our physical sensations such as habits, compulsions, cravings, and more.
When under the influence of heroin or cocaine, all of these functions are altered, which means the chemicals have interacted with the limbic system and gave the user positive feelings of pleasure and motivation.
To support these good feelings, users will keep taking these chemicals, thus resulting in a vicious cycle of drug use.
This behavior also can lead to other diseases such as HIV. That is we we advocate highly for Harm Reduction.
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The Addiction Cycle: Inside The Brain
As scientists learn more about the causes of substance use disorder, they come to understand the larger role that the brain plays in cravings, substance use, and ultimately substance abuse. If you suspect a loved one is struggling with illegal drug or alcohol abuse, learning more about the brains role in addiction can help you understand what your loved one is going through psychologically and physiologically during substance abuse recovery.
Treating The Addicted Brain And Addicted Person
How can we help control or reverse addictions? We do not yet have tools to erase the long-lasting brain changes that underlie addiction. The best pharmacological tools that we have now use a simple but effective strategy: an alternative drug is used to stimulate the brain on a low and steady level. This can fend off withdrawal, while providing a mild, almost subliminal, stimulation to the reward system, allowing the brain circuitry to readapt over time from the intense stimulation of daily use of addictive drugs to the very slight stimulation by steady, low levels of the medication. As the brain adapts back toward normality, an addict may gradually decrease the substitute drug until he becomes drug free. The narcotic drugs methadone and buprenorphine are safe and effective examples of such drugs. A recently approved drug called acamprosate uses a similar approach to treating alcoholism by providing a very mild sedative action that resembles alcohol. Is this just a chemical crutch that maintains the same brain changes caused by addiction? Perhaps, but by providing a minimal action it allows considerable normalization of brain function. Furthermore, these drugs allow people to reconnect with their families, hold jobs, and be productive members of society.
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What Biological Factors Influence Addiction
Biology contributes to addiction in ways beyond genes. How the body metabolizes, or breaks down and eliminates, foreign substances such as drugs or alcohol is heavily dependent on the presence of various enzymes, and they may vary significantly between individuals and even between ethnic groups.
For example, research shows that the Japanese have unique variations of certain alcohol-metabolizing enzymes that are not present in other populations, deterring alcohol consumption and alcoholismbecause it quickly gives rise to uncomfortable body sensations. Biological factors such as enzyme profile can influence the amount of alcohol people ingest, the pleasantness of the experience, harmful effects on the body, and the development of disease.
Addiction And The Brain
Neurotransmitters obviously play a key role in addiction, but to what extent? Do they demonstrate a causal relationship? Addiction is a complex disease attributed to multiple factors and can vary in severity from person to person. Genetics, environments, mental health, and even social structure may also change how a person interacts with certain substances, whether its alcohol, illicit drugs, or prescription medications.
According to a National Survey on Drug Use and Health , an estimated 45% of people with an SUD are also suffering from a co-occurring mental health disorder. Nearly 30 million Americans are facing substance abuse issues.
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The Evolution Of Motivation
Researchers have amassed a mountain of reasons to explain drug use. Leshner says that 72 risk factors have been defined, from the street price of a drug to the drug habits of the people one hangs out with. But the basic reason people use drugs isn’t complicated or mysterious. They like the way drugs make them feel.
Scientists believe, however, that the reward pathway exists for reasons more fundamental than fun. It does, after all, contain receptors, transporters, and other molecules that normally hitch up not with drugs but with the chemicals that evolution has designed for them. Scientists have known that the brain produces these natural psychoactive drugs since the 1970s, when the enkephalins, the first of the opioid peptides, were discovered. Since then, researchers have identified the natural brain analogs of all of the major drugs of abuse.
Scientists believe activation of the reward pathway is an essential spur to motivation, an incentive to learn and repeat adaptive behavior that they call reinforcement. Eating may be pleasurable, but its underlying purpose is to sustain life the pleasure that accompanies delightful flavors and full bellies is an enticement that encourages creatures to make a habit of it.
What Is Neuroplasticity And What Role Does It Play In Addiction
Neuroplasticity is the brains natural ability to change its wiring patterns in response to life experience. When stimulated, nerve cells generate new tendrils of connection to other nerve cells, called synapses. All learning hinges on the brains capacity to form new nerve cell connections, and mental and behavioral flexibility is the hallmark of that capacity.
While neuroplasticity is the great liberator of the mind, allows people to learn languages and remember birthdays, and fuels the imagination, it has a dark side. The same process rewires the brain in response to using drugs of abusebut, under the influence of the unnaturally fast and large flood of dopamine released, the rewiring strengthens the desire for the drug, weakens judgment and control, and prunes away the capacity to be interested in other, more natural rewards. The capacity for neuroplasticity, however, also enables the brain to rewire itself more normally once drug usage is stopped.
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How Does Addiction Hijack The Brain
The very fast and very intense flood of dopamine generated by taking a drug of abuse motivates repetition of the drug-taking. Under the influence of dopamine, that repetition changes the wiring of the brain in ways to increase the drug-wanting and decrease the ability to regulate the drug usage. What starts as a choice becomes so deeply wired into the brain that the machinery of desire operates automatically, and the machinery of attention narrows focus to the drug and getting it. The brain loses the capacity to respond to other potentially rewarding activities. The desire for reward ultimately becomes a prison from which it is difficultbut not impossibleto escape.
How Does The Brain Create Craving
Neuroscience research shows that there is a pattern to craving, a rise and fall of craving over a period of time. Craving always starts with a cueit is triggered by some sight or sound or memory or body sensation associated with the drug or its effects. The brains amygdala recognizes the emotional significance of the cue and increases its rate of firing then, a tide of dopamine released in the goal-oriented nucleus accumbens drives the seeking of drugs. The amygdala and nucleus accumbens both connect to many parts of the thinking brain, and they, in turn, pile on more thoughts related to the drugthe pathway to craving.
Craving peaks at 60 days of abstinence among alcoholics, studies show. For meth users, it peaks at three months of abstinence. There are techniques for dampening or diverting thinking in response to drug cues, including meditation, but the most powerful of all ways to drown out craving may be by getting connected to others.
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Neurotransmitters Impacted By Drug Abuse
Dopamine is one of the brains neurotransmitters affected by virtually all drugs of abuse however, there are many other chemical messengers that can be impacted as well. Some drugs may increase the presence of a particular brain chemical by stimulating its production, while others may block them from being reabsorbed. Neurotransmitters are typically either excitatory or inhibitory, meaning that they either provide stimulation or nervous system depression respectively. As outlined by NIDA, below is a list of neurotransmitters that are affected by drug abuse, along with their functions in the brain and body and which drugs disrupt their normal transmission, absorption, and/or production:
Why Are Drugs More Addictive Than Natural Rewards
For the brain, the difference between normal rewards and drug rewards can be likened to the difference between someone whispering into your ear and someone shouting into a microphone. Just as we turn down the volume on a radio that is too loud, the brain of someone who misuses drugs adjusts by producing fewer neurotransmitters in the reward circuit, or by reducing the number of receptors that can receive signals. As a result, the person’s ability to experience pleasure from naturally rewarding activities is also reduced.
This is why a person who misuses drugs eventually feels flat, without motivation, lifeless, and/or depressed, and is unable to enjoy things that were previously pleasurable. Now, the person needs to keep taking drugs to experience even a normal level of rewardwhich only makes the problem worse, like a vicious cycle. Also, the person will often need to take larger amounts of the drug to produce the familiar highan effect known as tolerance.
For more information on drugs and the brain, order NIDAs Teaching Addiction Science series or the Mind Matters series at www.drugabuse.gov/parent-teacher.html. These items and others are available to the public free of charge.
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Why Do People Keep Taking Drugs When They Know Theyre Bad For You
Drugs change the brain in ways that make quitting hard, even when you want to. This is because when you take drugs, the neurotransmitter dopamine is released in the basal ganglia in large amounts. Dopamine signals in this brain area “teach” other parts of your brain to keep seeking out the drug so you can take it again and again.
When people cant stop using drugs even though they want to, and drug use is causing serious consequences, it is called addiction. Their brain has learned to crave the drug all the time.
Learn more: See our latest updates on drugs and your brain.
Changes Last Long After Use
Stopping drug use doesnt immediately return the brain to normal. Some drugs have toxic effects that can kill neuronsand most of these cells will not be replaced. And while changes to connections between neurons in the brain may not be permanent, some last for months. Some research suggests the changes may even last for years.
Long-lasting brain changes can make it challenging for addicts to stay drug-free. They often experience intense cravings, leading to relapse.
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How Do Drugs Work In The Brain
Drugs interfere with the way neurons send, receive, and process signals via neurotransmitters. Some drugs, such as marijuana and heroin, can activate neurons because their chemical structure mimics that of a natural neurotransmitter in the body. This allows the drugs to attach onto and activate the neurons. Although these drugs mimic the brains own chemicals, they dont activate neurons in the same way as a natural neurotransmitter, and they lead to abnormal messages being sent through the network.
Other drugs, such as amphetamine or cocaine, can cause the neurons to release abnormally large amounts of natural neurotransmitters or prevent the normal recycling of these brain chemicals by interfering with transporters. This too amplifies or disrupts the normal communication between neurons.
What Are The Long
Drug use can lead to serious changes in the brain that affect how a person thinks and acts. It can also cause other medical problems, even death. Some drugs can cause heart disease, cancer, lung problems, and mental health conditions, like depression. A few drugs can even kill cells in your brain and body and make it hard to walk and talk and understand what’s happening around you.
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Nausea And Vomiting: Defenses Against Food Poisoning
Animals possess an arsenal of special abilities for survival and many of these are used for the foraging and consumption of food. Food intake is a risky behavior leading to the exposure of internal organs to possible food-related ailments, including viral and bacterial infection, allergies, and food intolerance . An important survival problem is to determine which foods are safe and animals possess a hierarchy of sensory systems that help in food identification. Many spoiled foods can be identified using olfactory cues and taste is an effective intake deterrent when food is sour or bitter.
Smell and taste, the gatekeepers of the alimentary tract, are not always effective in detecting the quality of food, and nausea and vomiting, as additional mechanisms for dealing with an unhealthy meal, play a large role in subsequent levels of defense. Emesis, along with diarrhea, helps rid the gastrointestinal tract of dangerous ingested toxins. The vomiting response is present in many species, appearing in most vertebrates and at least one invertebrate, the gastropod pleurobanchaea . However, the broad assessment of the emetic response across species is hampered by the problem of distinguishing emesis from processes of regurgitation and rumination emesis is functionally different and likely represents a more forceful ejection of gastric contents.
The Top Tools Being Utilized For Research On The Brain In Recovery
Functional brain measurement techniques:
Methods that provide dynamic physiological information about brain function/activity. Functional imaging techniques allow scientists to measure the contributions of various structures to specific psychological processes . Commonly obtained while participants complete tasks, functional images offer insight to the brain regions that are activated, or recruited, to perform a given task. Atypical brain function in patient populations can include reduced neural activation or a different pattern of brain activation as compared to healthy control populations.
- Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging
Also known as a functional MRI , this imaging technique measures brain activity by detecting changes associated with blood flow and oxygenation.
- Numerous studies utilizing functional magnetic resonance imaging have shown that drug cues elicit increased regional blood flow in reward-related brain areas among addicted participants that is not found among normal controls
See the fMRI in action:
Structural brain measurement techniques:
Imaging techniques that allow one to examine the brains anatomical structure. Structural imaging provides static information, and is analogous to taking a photograph of the brain. These images permit evaluation of gross anatomical abnormalities, including tissue atrophy and reduced white matter integrity .
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Myth: You Can Be Addicted To Dopamine
Theres a popular misconception that people experiencing addiction are actually addicted to dopamine, rather than drugs or certain activities.
Experiences that make you feel good, including using drugs, activate your brains reward center, which responds by releasing dopamine. This release causes your brain to focus more of its attention on the experience. As a result, youre left with a strong memory of the pleasure you felt.
This strong memory can prompt you to make an effort to experience it again by using drugs or seeking out certain experiences. But the drug or activity is still the underlying source of this behavior.
Structure Of The Medulla Oblongata
The region between the anterior median and anterolateral sulci is occupied by an elevation on either side known as the pyramid of medulla oblongata. This elevation is caused by the corticospinal tract. In the lower part of the medulla, some of these fibers cross each other, thus obliterating the anterior median fissure. This is known as the decussation of the pyramids. Other fibers that originate from the anterior median fissure above the decussation of the pyramids and run laterally across the surface of the pons are known as the external arcuate fibers.
The region between the anterolateral and posterolateral sulcus in the upper part of the medulla is marked by a swelling known as the olivary body, caused by a large mass of gray matter known as the inferior olivary nucleus.
The posterior part of the medulla between the posterior median and posterolateral sulci contains tracts that enter it from the posterior funiculus of the spinal cord. These are the fasciculus gracilis, lying medially next to the midline, and the fasciculus cuneatus, lying laterally.
The lower part of the medulla, immediately lateral to the fasciculus cuneatus, is marked by another longitudinal elevation known as the tuberculum cinereum. It is caused by an underlying collection of gray matter known as the spinal nucleus of the trigeminal nerve. The gray matter of this nucleus is covered by a layer of nerve fibers that form the spinal tract of the trigeminal nerve.
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