Drug Rehabilitation Blog

Effects on the Pleasure Center of the Brain

Addiction and It’s Effects on the Pleasure Center of the Brain

Addiction is a disease of the brain grounded in genetics and fortified by access to things in the environment. In 2011, it is estimated that over 5 million emergency room visits were related to drug use. Of those emergency room visits, 51 percent involved illegal drugs, 51 percent involved pharmaceutical use that was nonmedical, and 25 percent involved alcohol combined with drugs. The highest rates were for cocaine and marijuana.

Types of Addiction

Not all addiction involves substance abuse, although clearly that makes up a large part of it. Addiction is more related to the individual’s reaction to the object of their craving and how it makes them feel than the object itself. The object that an addictive personality focuses on can differ widely and range from food to exercise to drugs.

Obeying the Reward Center

Addiction is rooted in the brain and how the brain reacts to stimuli. To understand this, think of the brain as divided into three areas that send data to each other. Deep within the brain matter is the area that controls reward, motivation and behavior. Known as the reward center, it ensures that we survive by doing things that are necessary for us. Simply put, the reward center rewards certain actions and by doing that makes sure we do them again.

The reward center communicates with other areas such as the memory center and the area that receives input from our senses. If, for example, an individual is hungry, the brain seeks out environmental stimuli that suggests a particular food is available. The brain’s memory center has information stored there that suggests eating that food was pleasurable and provided saity. But, how does the memory center know the food was pleasurable? That is where the reward center comes in. When we do something that is good for us and provides us with pleasure, the reward center releases dopamine. This chemical signals pleasurable behavior and stores that information in the memory center so the action will easily be repeated.

However, the jolt of dopamine is about pleasure and is non-discriminating. If you are asking yourself if doing something that is not good for you but still provides pleasure, will the reward center still release the jolt of dopamine? The answer is yes, and herein lies part of the problem of drug addiction.

Genetics and Addiction

Genetics are another part of drug addiction. This does not mean that one single gene controls it, nor does it mean that no matter what the individual does, they are doomed. Rather, it means the individual has a propensity for addictive behavior. Individual inheritability and whether or not the trait for addiction will be expressed is affected by chance and environmental factors. To study genetic inheritance of addiction, researchers study the expression of this trait much as they do the trait for eye color. They study families where one parent had addictive behavior to determine how many people in succeeding generations express that trait. Cross testing DNA sequences in their genetic material will allow the researchers to isolate the particular part of the genome that has been passed down and to whom. Depending on whether the trait is dominant or recessive, it may be possible to skip generations.

Symptoms of Addiction

The symptoms of addiction crosses boundaries and are fairly recognizable. They are:

  • Craving – this is an overwhelming compulsion to do or use a substance or engage in an activity.
  • Emotionally and physically incapable of limiting their addictive behavior.
  • Develops a tolerance to their substance or activitiy of choice so it takes higher levels to achieve the same result.
  • Withdrawal results when the user attempts to stop using the drug or engaging in an activity.
  • Social and interpersonal relationships as well as employment and other factors are compromised.

There are multiple types of addictions and they are not limited to substance abuse, such as:

  • drug addiction
  • nicotine
  • alcohol
  • food addiction
  • exercise addiction
  • sex addiction
  • gambling
  • other behavioral activity

Humans have an unlimited ability to develop an attraction to things that damage their health and destroy their entire way of life.  The above list is only a small representation of the different types of addictions prevalent in society today.

Drug Withdrawal Goes Through Stages

Each drug or activity has specific symptoms associated with discontinuation. It generally occurs in steps and is divided into two main stages. The acute stage lasts for several weeks and the post-acute stage is also known as the Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome. This stage has less physical symptoms associated with it and a higher frequency of emotional ones. While behavioral addiction such as exercise or overeating has a heavy bend toward emotional withdrawal symptoms, there is some overlap in terms of real physical symptoms the person may experience. While they are listed below in two separate groups, be aware that overlap may and does occur.

Physical Drug Withdrawal Symptoms

Every addict’s worst fear is withdrawal.  This is the main thing that fuels their continued use of the substance.  They would rather endure the dangers of continued addiction than experience the discomfort of withdrawal.  Some of the physical and mental symptoms can include the following:

Physical withdrawal symptoms:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Muscle pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Tachycardia
  • Respiratory distress
  • Nasal Congestion
  • Palpitations
  • Tremor
  • Headache
  • Seizures
  • Delirium Tremens
  • Hallucinations
  • Heart attack and stroke

Emotional withdrawal symptoms:

  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Lack of social interactions
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Poor ability to concentrate
  • Restlessness

Post-acute withdrawal syndrome:

  • Fatigue
  • Moodiness
  • Sleeplessness
  • Excessive sleep
  • Low energy

As the addicted individual moves into the Post-Acute phase of withdrawal they may experience periods when the symptoms are less and periods when the symptoms are intense and not to be ignored. However, generally the longer this phase lasts the asymptomatic periods predominate. Yet, relapses do occur and sometimes recur with a vengeance. Why this happens is debatable and may be the result of environmental factors or happen for no reason. Regardless, they usually last for a few days. Getting through these periods is paramount to recovery.

Drug Treatment Your Way

Inpatient treatment is largely preferred since it allows the individual to be disengaged from an environment that will allow him or her to relapse. As the user builds strength, they are able to cope in the outside world. How long this takes is individualized and not predictable.  For these reasons, many rehab programs are flexible and can be adapted to each person’s specific situation to ensure the most favorable and lasting results.  Also, some programs offer options that allow patients to take part in choosing their own path to recovery.  Some of the options include faith-based therapy, music and art therapy, exercise and fitness routines, nutritional guidance and many others.  Today’s programs are more effective than those of the past and more oriented to the individual, which results in successful recovery for thousands of people.



1 Comment

  • carcol

    Funny how these bodies of ours work. They are very intricate and do all the things that keep us alive yet they can be tricked into also allowing things to happen that threaten our survival. You always have to stay very aware of what you are doing and what you are taking to make sure that you don’t create these dangerous effects on your body that will bring you harm. If you do, get yourself into a good rehab program right away so you can turn things around before it gets too bad.

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