KC’s Week: dopamine & addiction

Learning about addiction, I found a video that explains how our brains and dopamine work together to repeat behaviours.   Some of these are needed (like eating and procreating) but one way to see addiction is when this perfectly normal neurological process has been hijacked.


The video below names the specific parts of the brain, but I like to keep it a little simpler so I don’t get too confused.

Naturally occurring dopamine is released in our brains to help us prioritise seeking pleasurable behaviour (for example, urges for water, salt, fat, sugar, sex).  This is biologically useful for keeping humans alive, but it’s key to the addictive process regarding drugs and alcohol as well.  This video translates the example to the experience of eating a nice piece of cake, and I will translate the example to addictive impulses related to drinking alcohol:


If I was addicted to alcohol and had a drink, my brain would create dopamine, which would interact with dopamine receptors in specific parts of my brain, for specific results:

Memory:  the dopamine receptors in the part of the brain linked to memory helps one to remember the situation around drinking the alcohol.  The location, the people; memories that can aid in repeating the experience again.  This might be why people remember aspects of using with such strong emotion and fondness, which can make avoiding particularly difficult.

Motor Functions: Dopamine receptors related to actions that we take are activated by the dopamine from the drinking the alcohol.  It can influence us being more likely to take another drink, to buy another drink, or to go into the shop and walk down the aisle that sells the alcohol.  Dopamine connects with the motor functions part of the brain to help urge us to repeat the action that released the dopamine.

Focus:  The front part of the brain has dopamine receptors as well, and the alcohol can activate them in a way that helps us to focus, so we pay less attention to other things and more attention to the feeling, the memory, the actions that can lead me to ingesting more alcohol to repeat the experience.

All these work together to strengthen the addictive process, as each pleasurable experience sets off the dopamine and the receptors increase the urge to repeat the action which brings more dopamine.

The video explains that as well as increasing dopamine, serotonin is reduced, which means as well as having strong urges (dopamine) I’d feel less satiated.  More euphoria and seeking from dopamine alongside less satiation from less serotonin is a powerful combination.

If you would like to talk to a professional in our county about drug/alcohol addiction, ring or email CGL (Change Grow Live).  Our statutory and free drug and alcohol misuse service has put in place new remote online and existing telephone recovery services countywide.  To give anonymous feedback about your experiences with them, or any mental health services in our county, contact us at the SUN Network website, by ringing us, emailing us, and you can even give us feedback online as well.

Alcoholics Anonymous, SMART Recovery, Narcotics Anonymous and many other volunteer led recovery groups are available by phone and for online meetings and support as well–while we do distancing for safety.  Physical isolation is important to keep ourselves and others safe and healthy during the covid-19 outbreak.  But virtual connections are an important way to overcome addiction.

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