Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that regulates various functions in the body. It plays a big part in motivation and reward. Imagine finding a $50 bill on the ground. The rush you would feel would be from the dopamine. But the dopamine system can malfunction, just like other parts of the body. When this happens, people can experience low motivation, feelings of helplessness and a loss of interest in activities.
Dopamine also plays a role in addiction, though researchers are still studying why this is the case. Many believe that it trains the brain to avoid unpleasant experiences and seek out pleasurable ones. This could explain why the brain puts all its focus on getting drunk or high. But chances are, there’s more to this system than we realize.
Nevertheless, some people can’t help but think that addicts are actually dependent on a dopamine rush and not drugs and alcohol themselves. Could this be true? Let’s examine some of the facts and myths about this theory.
Can You Develop an Addiction to Dopamine?
Experiences that make you feel good activate your brain’s reward center. These activities can be anything - shopping, eating junk food or drugs. When your brain activates, it releases dopamine and this causes you to focus more on the experience. As a result, you’ll associate the experience with positive emotions.
Obviously, having good memories associated with drugs will prompt you to use them again. And again. The more you use drugs, the more they will change the circuitry of your brain, causing you to experience cravings and withdrawal symptoms.
Even though you may be motivated to use drugs and alcohol to experience a dopamine rush, it’s still the substance abuse at the root of it. Therefore, it’s not possible to be addicted to dopamine. Instead, this shows that your brain has been hijacked by drugs and alcohol.
Dopamine IS a Motivator, Though
While dopamine is not something you can be addicted to, it is a motivator. The reward center of the brain releases dopamine in response to pleasurable experiences. It takes note of the experience because it feels good. Then, it starts seeking out this experience.
Triggers are people, places, things and situations that remind the brain of what brought it pleasure. When the brain finds these triggers in its environment, you’ll feel the urge to use again. As you may know from experience, these triggers can be powerful and put you at risk for relapse.
Addiction Has Many Causes
Addiction is a complex brain disease with many different causes. We all have dopamine in the brain, so if dopamine was the only problem, everyone would have addictions. In reality, it’s a combination of biological, environmental and social influences that make up a person’s addiction risk.
That said, researchers are still studying dopamine to see what type of role it plays in a person’s addiction risk. For example, low dopamine levels are associated with depression, and depression and addiction often co-occur together.
So, if someone is struggling with depression, they may self-medicate with drugs and alcohol. By increasing dopamine levels from the start, could it be possible to prevent the depression, and therefore, the addiction as well? Only more research and time will tell.
How to Get Help for an Addiction
If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, contact Awakenings Treatment Center today. We offer total recovery for the mind, body and spirit. Our team of professionals has experience treating co-occurring conditions, and we understand how the reward system works. By breaking habits, developing new coping mechanisms and controlling stress, we can help break the cycle of addiction. Contact us today to learn more.