Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Brain Studies Reveal How Addiction Works

Peter R. Coleman, M.D.

Recently, I was asked to talk to a professional group called Virginia Lawyers Helping Lawyers. It was a wonderful experience! Most of the lawyers were in recovery themselves and many had more than 20 years of recovery. They were a pretty happy bunch. 

The talk I gave was on some of the medical aspects of the addicted brain - a subject I find fascinating. Many of the lawyers came up to me after the talk and were very interested in hearing more about the research findings of brain scan studies. Researchers are now able to use very sophisticated brain scans to obtain fascinating images of the brain. They can use functional MRI Scans and PET Scans, to take pictures in a variety of situations – in this way they can actually “see” how the brain is working. 

Some of the key findings include:
  • All addictive drugs release large amounts of Dopamine in the Pleasure center (Nucleus Accumbens). When this extra Dopamine is released, people report a subjective feeling of being 'high'.
  • Addictive drugs release most of their Dopamine in these areas so that these regions quickly become depleted.
  • It takes a long time for the pleasure center to recover from  drug abuse – for the brain to restore its normal levels of Dopamine
  • Physical triggers (sights, sounds, memories, associated people, etc.)  release Dopamine just like the actual substance.  When triggers are present, people report an increase in cravings for their drug of choice.
  • A physical trigger, along with the opportunity to use drugs, causes a large release of Dopamine in the pleasure center but also decreased blood flow to the frontal lobes (the thinking part and decision making part of the brain). This causes an increase in cravings and an increase in the drive to use drugs, but a decrease in the brakes or ability to resist using drugs.
  • Volunteering and selfless service causes a small release of Dopamine and people report feeling satisfied.
There is more and more research being done every day. Over time, we will learn more and more about how our marvelous brain works. I hope this will help patients get clean and stay clean.

If you or someone you love is in need of detox off of alcohol, opiates, benzos, Methadone, or Suboxone, please do not hesitate to call Jennifer Pius or Amy Stewart at 1-877-773-3869.  We're here to help!

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