Lifeline Connections

How the Brain Becomes Addicted to the Feel-Good Rush of Drugs

The brain is wired to seek out things that make you feel good. It is evolutionary, and it functions to ensure our survival. Eating, sleeping, and having relations gives us pleasure, and in turn, allows us to stay alive, alert and ready in the case of danger, and able to pass on our genetic code through our offspring. But how does the pleasure center of the brain factor into substance abuse and our propensity to fall into addiction? Turns out, it plays a huge role in the physiological addiction to drugs, and is a key motivator in why users feel a physical pull to continue seeking out and crave the feel-good rush of drugs.

When we do things that we find pleasurable, it all registers in the same portion of the brain, releasing the neurotransmitter dopamine. It is dopamine that allows us to feel pleasure and also aids in bodily movement and memory. When someone consumes recreational drugs, such as heroin and nicotine, it releases a huge amount of dopamine into the brain, flooding the pleasure center. Having no prior exposure, the drug has an intense effect on the brain, the overload of dopamine instilling an overwhelming state of euphoria.

However, the brain does not simply become addicted from experiencing that initial rush of pleasure alone. Dopamine also contributes to learning and memory by interacting with the reward-related learning portion of the brain. This system is important as it links activities needed for survival with pleasure and reward, involving portions of the brain that involve motivation and memory creation. The hippocampus creates memory of pleasure experienced. The amygdala creates the conditioned response between the stimulant and the pleasure. These parts of the brain are the reason why when we first experience something that feels good, we automatically remember the pleasure the next time we encounter that stimulant and feel compelled to associate that stimulant with pleasure. This portion of the brain then communicates with the prefrontal cortex, the part responsible with planning and action, propelling us to plan and act in ways that will acquire more of the stimulant. Addictive drugs creates almost a shortcut to the brain’s reward system by flooding the brain with dopamine, causing the hippocampus to remember that initial euphoria, the amygdala to associate that drug with pleasure, and the prefrontal cortex to plan out means of acquiring more of the drug.

Though these parts of the brain are fundamental to survival when dealing with such pleasure-inducing stimulants as food and sleep, they can prove highly vulnerable during substance abuse as the brain continues to crave drugs that can override the basic needs of the body. As the brain continues to be exposed to the euphoria brought on by drug use, it continues to develop the chemical conditioning that links drug consumption with pleasure. This conditioned response and behavior continues even after the brain starts to become less receptive to the release of dopamine brought on by drugs. Over time, as substance abuse continues to overload the brain with dopamine, the brain attempts to regain balance and adapts by subduing its own natural production of dopamine and eliminating dopamine receptors. The reduced receptors cause the user to feel less pleasure and require more drugs to maintain the same feelings of pleasure. However, even though the euphoria is no longer as intense, the memory and behavior has long-since been conditioned within the brain, perpetuating habitual substance abuse and agitation to seek out more ways of regaining that euphoria originally felt. It is this pervasive conditioned learning that explains why those that have remained sober for years still run the risk of relapsing.

Because of the intense physical conditioning that drugs induce upon the brain, drug rehab can be helpful, if not necessary for someone struggling with addiction. Though drug rehab may have negative connotations for those who are admitted involuntarily, drug rehab provides a safe and positive environment for detoxification and addiction recovery. Those in recovery can find support amongst other former users in drug rehab, creating a social system that will encourage sobriety and abstinence. Recovery can be difficult due to the way that the brain becomes physically addicted to drugs, but peer group support can maintain the accountability necessary to overcome addiction. If you are seeking to overcome the physical compulsion of substance abuse and addiction, then let Lifeline in Portland be where you receive your drug rehab treatment.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisicing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt.


Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisicing elit sed do eiusmod tempor