According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the brain areas affected by drug abuse are: the brain stem, the cerebral cortex, and the limbic system. The brain stem controls all the basic functions of life such as breathing, heart rate, and sleeping. The cerebral cortex enables us to see, hear, feel, and taste. Lastly, the limbic system is responsible for regulating our ability to feel pleasure. Our limbic system is responsible for our perception of other emotions, and can be both positive and negative. Activities such as socializing and eating affect the limbic system, but drug abuse has access to this area as well.

Harvard Medical School claims that addiction has a long-lasting and powerful influence over the brain regarding craving the object of addiction, losing control over the addiction, and continuing involvement in the addiction despite negative consequences surrounding it. In the brain’s reward center, the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine releases pleasure whether it be from a sexual encounter, eating a great meal, a monetary award, etc. When someone experiences something pleasurable, even drugs or alcohol, the dopamine chemical releases in the nucleus accumbens, a cluster of nerve cells lying directly beneath the cerebral cortex.

Drugs gain access to a shortcut in the pleasure center by overloading the nucleus accumbens with dopamine. The hippocampus – part of the limbic system and responsible for memory, emotions, and motivation – remembers this satisfaction and the amygdala, the integrative center of the brain, develops a conditioned response to this stimulus. Scientists say that addiction is reliant upon the speed of dopamine release, the intensity of that release, and the reliability of the release.

The Genetic Science Learning Center at the University of Utah explains that because drugs affect the brain more drastically than other pleasurable stimuli such as eating or social interactions, the brain reduces the number of dopamine receptors to compensate. In doing this, the brain increases the number of neuron dopamine transporters, which more quickly clears the dopamine of from the synapse. When this happens, the brain becomes less responsive to the drug, but the brain also becomes less responsive to natural rewards as well. This is why individuals with addiction must take more and more of the drug to achieve the same effects, and why they may find “natural pleasure” less appealing.

If you have an addiction, call us today at 888-316-3665. New Vista Behavioral Health is home to several California treatment centers that focus on mental illness and addiction recovery. We will work with you to help you understand even more your addiction, how it impacts you as well as others. We will work with you on a customized plan to optimize your success in recovery. Call us today for a consultation.


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