Category Archives: reward mechanisms

Brain Reward Circuitry

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.

Ø Heroin-Enhanced Dopamine Activity

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.

Ø Cocaine-Enhanced Dopamine Activity

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.

Ø Combined Heroin- and Cocaine-Enhanced Dopamine Activity

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


How Is Your Conscience?

How Is Your Conscience?

Everybody has a conscience, the reflective part of the mind it largely has to do with the past, but it can deal with the future in that we may project how we would feel if we do this or that. Mainly the conscience deals with the past. Our conscience is responsible for our joy or lack of joy.

The conscience was designed to be the human’s moral compass that detects the presence of evil. The conscience is as valuable as its training. It must correctly differentiate between good and evil to be of significant value to the person. Becoming a Christian commonly involves retraining a poorly trained conscience. The objective of this training is to make a Christian’s conscience aware of and sensitive to God’s standards and values. The Christian desires to yield to God’s perspectives rather than his/her own.

When a person acts consistently with his/her understanding of right or wrong, the conscience reacts positively. When a person violates his/her understanding of right and wrong, the conscience reacts negatively. Consciences react with no feeling if they are neglected or dead.

In one way the statement, “Let your conscience be your guide,” is correct. In another way, that statement is incorrect. The statement is correct if a person means, “I should be true in my actions to my standards and values.” The statement is incorrect if a person means, “My conscience defines my standards and values.”

The correctness or incorrectness of the statement is determined by one’s understanding of the role of conscience. If the person understands the conscience is reacting to his/her standards and values, the statement is correct. If the person thinks the conscience defines/produces standards and values, he/she is incorrect.

When a person violates his/her understanding of right and wrong, he/she has a “guilty conscience.” The conscience convicts that person of being wrong because he/she violated his/her standards or values. The conscience did not declare the person’s standards and values. The conscience declared a violation of the person’s standards or values.

The American culture has produced an increasingly “feeling” oriented society. A significant standard in determining if an attitude or act is right or wrong, good or bad is how that attitude or act “feels” to the person. Good “feelings” commonly confirms something is right.

Every Christian should be maturing in his/her understanding of God and His purposes. Each Christian is growing in his/her understanding that surrender to God involves much more than “blind obedience” to a religious system or a personal theological perspective. As a result of that understanding, his/her conscience is continually growing and maturing. That growth and understanding often involves growing beyond past positions of conscience. This is not a matter of searing the conscience but of maturing the conscience.

First, right and wrong or good and bad are strictly individual determinations. If it “feels” good then it is good–even if it “feels” bad to others. Thus the cry becomes, “Do not judge me!” which often means do not evaluate my “feelings” by your “feelings.” Many firmly believe there is no absolute right and wrong or absolute good and bad. Everything is both good and bad or right and wrong depending on the circumstances of the individual.

Note the use of “my feelings” to determine right and wrong or good and bad is often a justification of a personal behavior/position. Appealing only to feeling allows the person to focus on personal justification to the exclusion of person evaluation.

Second, if an attitude or action does not violate “my” conscience, it cannot be wrong or bad. Stated in another way, if the attitude or action “feels” good or right then it has to be good or right. In many instances, “feeling” is the ultimate consideration. The “certain proof” something is wrong is a “bad feeling.”

To many American individuals (as frequently is true in other modern societies), the ultimate criteria for determining right or wrong and good and bad is personal feelings. It is rapidly reaching the point that something does not have to “feel good” for it to be right; it just does not have to feel bad. Thus, if “my” conscience does not react against something, it has to be right. This situation creates numerous ironies. One of many illustrations: A person can be so opposed to abortion that he/she classifies it as murder because it takes a life. Yet, he/she can take the life of someone who makes abortion possible, and without “feeling” it is wrong. Thus, by appealing to a powerful feeling, one is justified in his/her own opinion in preventing “murder by abortion” by intentionally “murdering.”

Good choices and decisions come from good standards and values. Godly consciences come from good choices and decisions based on good standards and values. A good choice and a good decision is determined by the results of the choice and decision years later, not by one’s feelings at the moment of the choice or decision. Often choices and decisions of great value do not feel good at the moment of choice. Often choices and decisions of horrible consequence feel wonderful at the moment of choice or decision. The issue often is NOT “how do I feel at the moment of choice,” but what is the continuing result of the choice.

Lesson one: because something “feels” right and good does not make it right and good.

Lesson two: if one’s standards and values are incorrect, his/her conscience will be misguided.

Lesson three: one’s conscience is no more reliable than the standards and values that train his/her conscience.

Lesson four: a conscience is a good conscience only if it is reliably trained by good standards and values.

Lesson five: it is possible to have right motives and wrong understanding at the same moment.

Lesson six: culture’s standards frequently serve as poor standards for training a conscience.

Training a conscience is only to be entrusted to God, the Father of Jesus whom He made Christ. God’s standards and values must become the person’s standards and values. Thus, developing a good and godly conscience is a lifetime journey, not an earthly destiny. As the person spiritually matures in Christ, standards and values constantly undergo development. The conscience constantly changes through development as one’s standards and values mature in Jesus Christ. Developing a godly conscience is a lifetime undertaking.

The feelings of a conscience can be trusted to be right only when a person is certain his/her standards and values are God’s standards and values. As a person matures in God’s ways and priorities, his/her standards and values mature. As standards and values mature, the conscience changes.

The cultural swings in this society in less than one life span are dramatic. We have gone from a society that inhibited emotion to a society that feeds on emotion. In the mid-twentieth century, a woman endured significant social consequences if she had a child outside of marriage. Today there are unmarried men and women who deliberately have a child outside of marriage. In the mid-twentieth century it was not unusual for sexual activity and expression to be repressed even in marriage. Now sexual activity and expression are at least sanctioned and at most encouraged prior to marriage. Alienation in marriages, divorce, single parent homes, blended families, and life styles are much too frequently the result of an individual’s “feelings.”

Within the Bible it is easy to pick out 4 types of conscience. They are:

1. A Seared Conscience

2. An Untrained Conscience

3. A Weak Conscience
4. A Biblical Trained Conscience

1. The Seared Conscience-

The seared conscience is a conscience that has been activated by biblical truth but, is no longer activated by biblical criteria. The conscience has no guilty feelings, see nor see any need for excusing what they do. It is this conscience that blasphemes the Holy Spirit. 1 Tim 4:2
2. The Untrained Conscience-

The untrained conscience has never been activated by biblical truth. Therefore those with untrained consciences do not have or have very few guilt feelings, they don’t make excuses for what they do since they don’t know the biblical way in doing things. The conscience is these folks can be remedied by being taught and trained in biblical truth. This conscience can be easily led to depression by reacting improperly to life’s issues.
Rom 1-3
3. The Weak Conscience-

The weak conscience is activated by non biblical criteria. A weak conscience produces guilt feelings for the wrong reasons. These folks could have good standards they live by but have idols in their heart. They may do things for acceptance by God, to be accepted by the Church, to be loved by mom or dad, or in order to get something from God since that “bargained with Him. This conscience can and often is easily led to depression by reacting improperly to life’s issues.
Rom 14:1,2,23
4. A Biblical Conscience-

These folks have a conscience activated by biblical truth. They have proper guilt feelings for the right reasons when they do wrong and sin. They are in the proper position to handle guilt and problems God’s way. These are the people inthe Church that have grown and are called “spiritual” by the Apostle Paul. (Gal 6:1)
2 Tim 3:16-17, 1 Tim. 1:5

May God grant us to have a biblically functional conscience by then grace, illumination and dynamic power of the Holy Spirit.

In His Grace Forever,
Pastor Teddy Awad, CMHP
Young Adult Crisis Hotline
and Biblical Counseling Center