The biology behind drug addiction

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The biology behind drug addiction

buying tickets for nuclear accumbens

To enjoy the rides in the brain’s NUCLEAR ACCUMBENS THEME PARK, you need dopamine tokens. The more you have, the more fun you’ll have, up to a point.

It is easy to think, it will never happen to me.  But it can and it does, not because you’re weak willed, it’s driven by biology…………

Humans are lazy

It all begins with human NATURE.   Let’s be honest – hanging around doing as little as possible, is the default human condition.

Mother Nature had to fight this tendency to CHILL, tooth and nail, because in by gone times, if you didn’t SNAP out of it – STARVING was a real possibility.

So Mother Nature “rewarded” behaviours that were particularly helpful for survival…..

Little things like, having sex to procreate and eating calorie rich foods.

This reward system still functions today….  sex and food still trigger it.

A little motivation

We’ve acquired a whole bunch more ways to FEEL GOOD….. and we all have our own list of favourite things, that make us, FEEL GOOD THING.

For some :

  • It’s money,
  • for others BEING CONNECTED to their mobile device,
  • The more driven among us, get a biological reward, every time they cross an item off their TO-DO-LIST
  • and then there is the DRUGS OF ADDICTION – both legal and illegal ones

All create GOOD FEELINGS……..

I feel good

These good feelings are created in the  region of your brain known as the nuclear accumbens,  nicknamed the “reward centre”.

A trip to the nuclear accumbens, is like going to the fun faire.

When you arrive at the gate, you need to buy tickets – how many tickets you buy, determines how many rides you can participate in.  The ticketing system used by the nuclear accumbens, requires you to pay with one of the important neurotransmitters, called dopamine.

It’s easy to buy tickets to the fair

There are a multitude of ways to get enough dopamine to buy a ticket.   Strategies I like to use on a regular basis – chocolate, bubble baths and reading science journals ( I know I’m weird).

Now a visit to the “Nuclear Accumbens” fair is by definition, FUN.

Most of the time,  you purchase  a few  tokens,  enter the park and enjoy a couple of the rides and games, and then you head home, having enjoyed the experience.  If you are lucky you leave the park with a stuffed toy, if you’re not so lucky, you leave with some happy memories.

“Fun” overload

Unfortunately addictive drugs create a situation that when you arrive,  your pockets’ are overflowing with “dopamine”, so you have the opportunity to buy lots and lots of tokens.

Once inside the park, you set about using these tokens.

You start off playing the games and enjoying the rides, during the course of the activities,  you win your first stuffed toy.   Man, does this feel good,  so you use up a few more tokens attempting to win another stuffed toy.

And………….. you do.

At the end of the day, winning stuffed toys at the fun faire is a numbers game.   Eventually you get lucky….and thanks to your bucketful of tokens, you have lots of opportunities to “GET LUCKY”.

The “fun” goes to your head

Pretty soon you have a fantastic collection of stuffed toys.  You have no idea what you’re going to do with 20 stuffed bears, but you like WINNING.

So you keep playing and WINNING.

You feel powerful, in control, lucky ………… everyone admires you – you don’t want the feeling to go away.

Camping out at the fun faire

And if truth be told, the rest of your life is a SLOG.

 Mind numbing. Mundane. Monochromatic.

You find yourself wanting to spend all of your time at the fair – winning stuffed toys and enjoying the rides.

So you make a plan to get more of the dopamine, so you can continue to participate.

Regrettably, the fun park is a business venture, not a charity……………AND THIS IS THE PROBLEM !

Inflation in the “fun” park

Management at the park apply economics to the ticket prices.

Economics 101.

The higher the demand for an item, the higher the price that can be charged.

If you’re visiting the park regularly, then the price goes up, since demand has risen.   So initially you only needed one token to participate in an activity.  But each time you visit, things get a little more expensive.

When you notice, you complain to the guy selling the tickets, he just shrugs his shoulders and mumbles about inflation……

Running short of dopamine tokens

The fact that prices keep increasing, makes it progressively more difficult to play enjoy your favourite rides and games.   So you’re forced to consider “other” rides and games.  You seldom win anything,  most of the time the game  doesn’t end in a cuddly stuffed toy,  but rather an ice cold…………caboom, splish splosh, thud.

The experience is demoralizing, humiliating, painful.

It has a name……………………. WITHDRAWAL.

So why don’t you just stay home ?

The “dark” side of the fun fair

Deep down, you know it would be wise…..

But every time you seriously contemplate going home,  the management of the park, reminds you what a fun, happening place the park is.  It also points out,  just how boring your REAL life is.

Just in case this is NOT ENOUGH to keep you coming.

You get to experience life IN THE PARK, with NO DOPAMINE !  OUCH !

Hi – my name is John and I’m an addict

You are now addicted and stuck in an vicious loop…..

  • You come for the promise of feeling good, in psychological speak this is known as positive reinforcement.
  • You can’t stay away, because if you’re not WINNING, you’re LOSING – there is NO NEUTRAL. This is known as  negative reinforcement.

I did say……………….. it was clever marketing !

You’re doomed if you do, but doomed if you don’t

The negative reinforcement keeps you coming back to the park,  but you NEVER have enough tokens to enjoy the rides.

You quite literally sell your soul to keep “playing”.

Nothing else matters

  • Not your family
  • Not your friends
  • You don’t care about your job
  • You don’t care about eating

The only thing that matters is being in the park experiencing the rides…………..

No one plans to get stuck in the park

It begins so innocently – instead of arriving at the gate with one or two tokens, which was what Mother Nature intended,  you arrive with a bucketful.

But a bucketful of FUN,  can be too hot to handle.

It really is a case of………………….. you can check in, anytime you like, but you can never leave.  The chemistry keeps you trapped in the park.

Don’t fall for the deal

Without a reward centre, NOTHING would get done.

Rewards are NECESSARY.

But, TOO MUCH of a good thing, can be a BAD thing.   Drugs of addiction, are packaged in such a way, that they allow you to purchase a bucketful of tokens.    This creates unbalanced body chemistry.   Addiction has very little to do with willpower, in addiction, the reward system has been hijacked and subverted.

The best way to avoid the fun faire nightmare, stick to buying tickets one at a time.

You’ll still create BETTER BODY CHEMISTRY, but won’t be at risk of becoming ADDICTED !


Further reading

wired to be a food loverHow you get your kicks is wired into your brain

What makes you really really happy. Not haha happy, more self fulfilled, in the zone? Chocolate, sex …………. Your preferences are wired into your brain.

rat addicted to an oreo cookieOreo biscuits don’t just taste good, they’re addictive

You’re a MASTER of eating an oreo cookie…… you twist and lick, then swallow. Once you’re done, you reach for another. You really LOVE these biscuits.

caffeine hangoverJava Junkies. The truth about caffeine addiction

The use of caffeine is self-regulating – when you start to swing from the ceiling, you’ve had one cup too many, so STOP !

Want to discover more ways to create BETTER BODY CHEMISTRY ?