The brain is the engine that drives life and the moment it stops, life equally stops. This is one organ which by all means must not suffer from any kind of pressure. However the kind of life we live today is exacting a lot of pressure to the brain. The prevalence of substance abuse is not helping either in keeping the good health of the brain and this is what we want to engage the experts at AWAREmed Health and Wellness Resource Center on. This is a facility that was the brain child of doctor Dalal Akoury and its formation was primarily to offer solutions to people who are struggling with addiction. Therefore doctor Akoury is going to help us understand how substance abuse is hijacking individual’s minds even as it causes other chronic health problems to the body.
Owing to the consequences that comes with substance abuse, Ideally nobody would on a voluntary basis wants to desire to develop an addiction, however many people get caught in its snare from very humble beginnings. And today looking at the prevalence of addiction it is amazing that drug use is almost getting out of hand. Take for instance the latest statistics from the government America where nearly 23 million Americans are addicted to either alcohol or other drugs representing a worrying figure of one in every ten being an addict. The statistics also indicate that more than two-thirds of people with addiction abuse alcohol. While the top three drugs causing addiction are marijuana, opioid (narcotic) pain relievers, and cocaine.
In the past the perception about addiction was not right and people who developed signs of addiction were actually seen as people with questionable character and lacking in willpower. As such the remedy was punishment since they were considered wrongdoers besides that they were also encouraged making peace with the community by turning away from their bad habits. Nonetheless a lot has currently been done and scientific findings are changing this old perception of addiction. Today addiction is recognized as a chronic disease that changes both brain structure and function. Just in the same way as cardiovascular disease damages the heart and diabetes impairs the pancreas, addiction hijacks the brain. This happens as the brain goes through a series of changes, beginning with recognition of pleasure and ending with a drive toward compulsive behavior.
One of the functions of the brain is to registers all pleasures in the same way, irrespective of their origin. That is whether they are associated with a psychoactive drug, a monetary reward, a sexual encounter, or a satisfying meal. The fact is in the brain, pleasure has a distinct role which is the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the nucleus accumbens, a cluster of nerve cells lying underneath the cerebral cortex. Dopamine release in the nucleus accumbens is so consistently tied with pleasure that neuroscientists refer to the region as the brain’s pleasure center.
All drugs of abuse, from nicotine to heroin, cause a particularly powerful surge of dopamine in the nucleus accumbens. The likelihood that the use of a drug or participation in a rewarding activity will lead to addiction is directly linked to the speed with which it promotes dopamine release, the intensity of that release, and the reliability of that release. Therefore addictive drugs provide a shortcut to the brain’s reward system by flooding the nucleus accumbens with dopamine. The hippocampus lays down memories of this rapid sense of satisfaction, and the amygdala creates a conditioned response to certain stimuli.
Previously it was believed that an experience of pleasure alone was enough to compel people in to consistent seeking of addictive elements or activities. However new research findings indicates that the situation may be more complicated. This is because dopamine’s are not only responsible for the experience of pleasure but are also playing a role in learning and memory which are the two key elements in the transition from liking something to being addicted to it. Currently the philosophy about addiction is that dopamine interacts with another neurotransmitter, glutamate to take over the brains system of reward related learning. Remember that this system has an important role in sustaining life because it links activities needed for human survival (such as eating and sex) with pleasure and reward.
It may interest you to note that he reward circuit in the brain may include areas involved with motivation and memory as well as with pleasure. Addictive substances and behaviors stimulate the same circuit and then overload it. And therefore repeated misuse of any addictive substances or behavior will cause nerve cells in the nucleus accumbens and the prefrontal cortex (the area of the brain involved in planning and executing tasks) to communicate in a way that couples liking something with wanting it, in turn driving us to go after it. That is, this process motivates us to take action to seek out the source of pleasure.
By nature, rewards usually come only with time and effort. And like I had mentioned before, addictive drugs and behaviors provide a shortcut, flooding the brain with dopamine and other neurotransmitters. Our brains do not have an easy way to withstand the onslaught. Addictive drugs, for example, can release two to 10 times the amount of dopamine that natural rewards do, and they do it more quickly and more reliably. In a person who becomes addicted, brain receptors become overwhelmed. The brain then responds by producing less dopamine or eliminating dopamine receptors—an adaptation similar to turning the volume down on a loudspeaker when noise becomes too loud.
As a result of these adaptations, dopamine has less impact on the brain’s reward center. People who develop an addiction typically find that, in time, the desired substance no longer gives them as much pleasure. They have to take more of it to obtain the same dopamine “high” because their brains have adapted and that is what is known as tolerance.
At this point, compulsion takes over. The pleasure associated with an addictive drug or behavior subsides—and yet the memory of the desired effect and the need to recreate it (the wanting) persists. It’s as though the normal machinery of motivation is no longer functioning.
The learning process mentioned earlier also comes into play. The hippocampus and the amygdala store information about environmental cues associated with the desired substance, so that it can be located again. These memories help create a conditioned response—intense craving—whenever the person encounters those environmental cues.
Cravings contribute not only to addiction but to relapse after a hard-won sobriety. A person addicted to heroin may be in danger of relapse when he sees a hypodermic needle, for example, while another person might start to drink again after seeing a bottle of whiskey. Conditioned learning helps explain why people who develop an addiction risk relapse even after years of abstinence. And that is why keeping close touch with the experts is very important. If you have any concern about addiction, you can schedule for an appointment with doctor Dalal Akoury today for the commencement of your recovery process.