Brain Reward Circuitry
The activation of brain reward systems is largely responsible for producing a drug’s potent addictive properties. Personality, social, and genetic factors may also be important, but the drug’s effects on the central nervous system (CNS) remain the primary determinants of drug addiction. Other factors are likely to be important in influencing initial drug use and in determining how rapidly an addiction develops. For some substances, factors may interact with the drug’s action to produce compulsive substance use. In these cases, “addictive behavior” may involve use of substances that are generally not considered addictive.
Addictive drugs activate brain reward systems. However, the activation is much more intense causing the individual to crave the drug and to focus their activities around taking the drug. The ability of addictive drugs to strongly activate brain reward mechanisms and their ability to chemically alter the normal functioning of these systems can produce an addiction.
An addicted brain is different physically and chemically different from the normal brain. A cascade of neurobiological changes accompanies the transition from voluntary to compulsive drug use. They alter the brains pleasure center. Activating this circuit also called the reward circuit produces a feel good sensation. Drugs OF abuse change the brain, hijack its motivational SYSTEMS AND EVEN HOW ITS GENES FUNCTION.
This pleasure circuit communicates in the chemical usage of dopamine: this is the neurotransmitter zips neuron to neuron in the circuit producing feelings from mild happiness to euphoria.
More dopamine’s means more firing of circuits of neurons in the pleasure circuit.
Chronic use produces enduring changes it produces the number of dopamine receptors. Withdrawal is a resetting of the brains dopamine system. The production of joy is decrease thus; life does not seem worth living.
Relapse occurs because the brains regions that become activated where the memories are stored. Cue induced craving turn on these memory centers that trigger addicts to respond in learned behavior.
Dopamine is one of a number of neurotransmitters found in the central nervous system. Dopamine has received special attention because of its apparent role in the regulation of mood and affect and because of its role in motivation and reward processes. . This releases small amounts of dopamine into the synaptic cleft. The levels of dopamine produced when the cells are active at this low rate may be responsible for maintaining normal affective tone and mood. Some scientists speculate that some forms of clinical depression may result from unusually low dopamine levels.
The insights about the role of our brain in the process of addiction centers on something called neurotransmitters. These are chemicals that impact on the electrical messages being transmitted in the brain from one neuron to another. It is these messages that determine our thoughts and feelings.
Dopamine is one of a number of neurotransmitters found in the central nervous system. Dopamine has received special attention because of its apparent role in the regulation of mood and affect and because of its role in motivation and reward processes. . This releases small amounts of dopamine into the synaptic cleft. The levels of dopamine produced when the c
ells are active at this low rate may be responsible for maintaining normal affective tone and mood. Some scientists speculate that some forms of clinical depression may result from unusually low dopamine levels.
Heroin increases the neuronal firing rate of dopamine cells. The increased numbers of action potentials produce an increase in dopamine release. The increased dopamine activity increases the effects mediated by postsynaptic dopamine. The heroin user experiences the enhanced dopamine activity as mood elevation and euphoria. When the pharmacological action terminates (i.e., the heroin is eliminated from the brain), the drug user is highly motivated to repeat this experience.
Cocaine inhibits the reuptake of dopamine. This increases the availability of dopamine in the synapse and increases dopamine’s action on the postsynaptic neurons. The enhanced dopamine activity produces mood elevation and euphoria. Cocaine’s effect is usually quite short, prompting the user to repeatedly administer cocaine to re-experience its intense subjective effects.
Because heroin and cocaine work on different parts of the dopamine neurons, they can be combined to produce even more intense dopamine activation. (The heroin increases cell firing and dopamine release, while the cocaine keeps the released dopamine in the synaptic cleft longer thereby intensifying and prolonging its effects.) The combination of heroin and cocaine is known by users as a “speed-ball.” This combination of drugs is extremely dangerous, and users show very rapid psychological and physiological deterioration.
Although speed-ball use produces extremely intense activation of brain reward systems, it is often short-lived because this drug combination is associated with a very high fatality rate. The combination of cocaine and heroin is perhaps the most dangerous form of illicit substance use.
Addicts can no more suppress their craving for drugs than the rest of us can suppress the urgings of hunger, thirst, or libido. Indeed, research indicates that this craving actually mimics our appetites by “hijacking a normal process in the brain” and becoming a part of the addict’s fundamental biochemistry.
When ingested, cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine, for instance, trigger neurotransmitters—“brain chemicals” like dopamine—which initiate a “complex orchestration of events” in the brain, she says. The most obvious effect of that orchestration is euphoria: the high. But at the same time the drug is activating certain genes, common to all humans, whose switches are normally flipped by such on-again/off-again pleasure-producing behaviors as eating, drinking, and sex. Those activated genes in turn produce proteins which accumulate in the brain. They Produce proteins which accumulate in the brain.
Even after an addict has detoxified—long after the body has flushed itself of any residue of the drug—these proteins persist in the brain and are fully “integrated into the biochemistry of its nerve cells.” The very structure of the brain changes, in a reconfiguration which neuroscientists believe accounts for the cravings of addicts months or even years after they’ve stopped taking drugs. In short, addicts desire the drug as much as the rest of us desire food, their brain wants the drug as much as it wants food, and—deep in its biochemistry—it may always want the drug.
They must learn—or re-learn—not only how to act but how to think appropriately and productively. They must address the recklessness or loneliness which originally led them to experiment with drugs. And always the chance occurrence of an environmental cue from the bad old days—hearing a song maybe, meeting a drug buddy—will threaten to undo months or years of sobriety.
Colossians 3:2 “Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth.”WHAT IS GOD’S STANDARD FOR THE MIND?
Six times the New Testament describes or implies what the Christian’s mind is to be like. In each case the passage mentions the word MIND. As you read what the New Testament says about the mind, check your mind to see if these adjectives describe you.
#1 Our first adjective is ALIVE, Re: Romans 8:6 “For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace.”
#2 Our second adjective is PEACEFUL, The spiritual mind is set on peace of the mind. Note again that we set our minds. Peace is a fruit, not an attainment. Our work is setting the mind; God’s work is the peace.
#3 Our third adjective is SINGLE-MINDED, 2Corinthians 11:3 describes the mind. But I am afraid, lest as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds should be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ. Paul is telling us that the mind of Christ is single-minded. Jesus’ entire life is a flawless example of single-mindedness. He said He had completed the work God gave Him to do (John 17:4).
From beginning to end, nothing could deflect Him from God’s purposes. Are we like that?
#4 Our fourth Adjective, is LOWLY, Philippians 2:3 “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. The mind is to be lowly. Believers cannot be humble unless they are lowly; humility follows lowliness of mind. Humility speaks of a relationship to others and to God; Lowliness is a state of MIND!
#5 Our Fifth Adjective, is PURE, Paul speaks about the mind in Titus 1:15 “To the pure, all things are pure; but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their mind and their conscience are defiled.” Here purity is described as the natural state of the Christian. Impurity is reached by corruption. In our times, the “natural” spiritual state, or being filled with God’s Spirit and growing in Christ, is harder to maintain for several reasons. Tempters have always abounded, but they now have resources within our environment to take us into unprecedented realms of sin. Strength comes before, not during, temptation. Overcoming is a prior act.
#6 Our sixth Adjective, is RESPONSIVE, When Jesus appeared to the disciples on the evening of the resurrection, “He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures (Luke 24:45). The disciples did not always learn quickly, but they were teachable and they were responsive. Responsive implies a spiritual sensitivity to God. This quality, responsiveness to God is indispensable for progress in the spiritual life. We need for God’s spirit to sensitize us to Himself. One way to cultivate sensitivity is to give God a chance by dwelling in His Word. Specifically, what Jesus “opened their minds” to the Scripture. Jesus was sensitive to His Father in the utmost degree. Please pray that God will make you more sensitive to Him.
In His Grace Forever,
Pastor Teddy Awad, CMHP
Young Adult Crisis Hotline
and Biblical Counseling Center