The Link Between Drug Addiction and Dopamine

A healthy brain detects and encourages desirable behaviors through pleasure, such as eating, socializing with others, and engaging in sexual activity. Because of the way our brains are wired, we are more prone to repeat rewarding behaviors. Dopamine is an important neurotransmitter in this process. Find out more about the link between drug addiction and dopamine below. 

To learn more about how we can help you overcome all obstacles to a sober and fulfilling life, contact Myrtle Beach Recovery.

How is Dopamine Tied to Drug Use?

Drugs produce tremendous euphoria and considerably higher dopamine surges, which reinforce the link between using the drug, the associated pleasure, and all of the environmental cues. When dopamine levels are high, the brain teaches itself to seek drugs rather than other, healthier goals and activities.

According to research, the most commonly abused drugs in humans (such as cocaine, alcohol, nicotine, amphetamines, and opiates) cause a neurochemical reaction that significantly increases the amount of dopamine released by neurons in the brain’s reward center.

Dopamine Deficiency Explained

Both alcoholics and drug addicts often start out with incredibly low dopamine levels. Dopamine levels are raised with substances like alcohol, sweets, and even drugs. Some people with psychiatric issues may take drugs in an effort to treat a dopamine shortage due to a genetic inability to absorb dopamine.

Dopamine deficiency symptoms can arise from a variety of causes, including a poor diet and medical conditions. Sugar and saturated fat-rich diets can reduce dopamine synthesis, resulting in a dopamine shortfall. Another cause of low dopamine levels is a lack of protein. You could also be lacking in copper, iron, zinc, and B complex vitamins.

Signs of lack of dopamine are:

  • Low motivation
  • Being worn out
  • An inability to focus
  • A lack of pleasure from hobbies
  • Irritability 
  • Anxiety
  • A low sex drive
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Insomnia or oversleeping

Other causes can be:

  • Stress
  • Obesity
  • Unhealthy dietary habits
  • A symptom of alcohol withdrawal
  • A symptom of drug use or withdrawal 
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Having restless leg syndrome

Some reasons for low dopamine levels are:

  • Not enough dopamine receptors
  • Dopamine production is too low
  • Defective or damaged dopamine receptors
  • There is an improper recirculation of dopamine
  • Dopamine is breaking down too fast

Drug Addiction and Dopamine

Unlike natural reward behaviors like playing a game or socializing, which end once the behavior is completed, the intensified dopamine response in the brain brought on by mood-altering drugs does not. As a result, cravings for the drug’s rewards persist even while using it, which promotes compulsive, repetitive use even when inebriated. 

After a while the brain will reduce the dopamine receptors altogether, to help adjust and balance out the flood of dopamine in the addict’s system. Because of this, compulsive behaviors increase. But also, it leads to a state called anhedonia, which is a loss of pleasure in activities that someone used to enjoy. The depressive feelings make the addict use drugs even more, to try to reverse this. 

This becomes even worse as the addict’s self-control is eroded which happens when the grey matter in the frontal cortex begins to reduce the addict’s ability to use rational thinking. This area of the brain helps you assess consequences and have great executive functioning skills, both are things the addict will need in order to achieve sobriety. The cycle that dopamine helps to create in addiction is devastating. 

There is No One Cause of Addiction

Addiction is complicated, and there are so many small things that contribute. Dopamine plays a large role but it isn’t the only thing that will affect the road to sobriety. We now believe that there are many biological factors including, genes, medical conditions, and whether or not the addict was exposed to drugs during the developmental stages of their brain. 

Furthermore, environmental factors play an important role too. How your home life is, if there are any traumas, or if others use alcohol around you will all contribute. Someone who is having trouble socially, and at work or school, will also lean towards alcohol, and drugs more often. These are only a few of the numerous elements that might lead to addiction but they don’t necessarily indicate that addiction will manifest.

Consider Myrtle Beach Recovery

If you or a loved one are struggling during recovery, let Myrtle Beach Recovery help you with our 12-step immersion program. Our experienced staff will help you work through the steps to help you regain control of your life.

Contact us today to learn more about our services and how we can help you on your journey to sobriety.