For what happens neurologically, when we actually become addicted to something, scientists first began to seriously study addictive behaviours back in the 1930s Before this, it was widely assumed that people with addictions were in some way morally flawed or lacking the willpower and mental strength to overcome their problems.
It's a story we've all come across the diligent students start skipping school and letting their grades slip a trustworthy, honest friend might get caught stealing. The Immaculate beauty queen stops caring about their appearance. These out of character behavioural changes can be directly linked to changes within the brain itself. In this video, we're going to delve deep into the science behind addiction.
But first, let's talk exactly about what is an addiction. According to the NHS addiction can be defined as not having control over doing taking or using something in a way where it could be harmful to you. This is most commonly associated with drug abuse, but the definition can be extended to include just about anything gambling, sex, or even work can lead to harmful destructive addictions, with the affected people causing themselves as well as the people around them.
harm by neglecting all other aspects of their lives innovative brain imaging techniques have revolutionised our understanding of what is happening to the brains of affected people. We can now see that addiction actually changes the brain structure in ways that can alter the way it works and process information to understand the ways that this might impact their choices and behaviour.
We need to start thinking about rewards deep in the brain sits the reward pathway and neuronal pathway that connects clusters of neurons from different areas of the brain in a highly organised way. Also known as the Mizo limbic pathway. The reward pathways primary function is to reinforce sets of behaviours. If we think back in evolutionary time, it was helpful to have a mechanism that rewards us for behaviours useful for survival things like finding food in times of famine, or escaping from a source of danger.
It's even more helpful to have a way to remember how we managed to stay alive so that we can repeat it the next time we're in a similar situation. The reward pathway achieves all this primarily through the use of a particular neurotransmitter called dopamine following an appropriate action, a small burst of dopamine is released by the reward pathway. This causes you to feel a small jolt of satisfaction, which acts as a reward for keeping yourself alive, encouraging you to repeat the same behaviour in the future.
Dopamine signals also act on areas of the brain involved in memory and movements, which help us build up memories of what is good for survival, and makes it easier to do it again. Dopamine is also released when good things happen to us rewarding experiences such as winning a game or getting a compliment at work sends signals to release bursts of dopamine more indirectly.
If you take a painkiller like an opioid, or have an alcoholic drink, certain neurons within your central nervous system are suppressed the resulting feelings of peace or relaxation also come about through a spike in dopamine release. This, unfortunately, paves the way for both drug and non drug addictions whenever an action or a substance is abused, such as excessive gambling or overconsumption of pornography, junk food or drugs. The reward system floods the entire circuit with levels of dopamine up to 10 times higher than a natural reward. Depending on the route of administration. This can happen almost instantaneously, with the effects lasting much longer than a natural stimulus.
The overstimulation of the brain's natural reward mechanism produces intensely euphoric and pleasurable sensations that actors strongly motivate people to seek out more of it. Unfortunately, if we keep on taking engaging in these behaviours and flooding our reward systems, over time the brain attempts to adapt to these chronically elevated levels of dopamine. The brain actually reduces the number of receptors for that label to respond to dopamine signals, with special channels being inserted to remove dopamine from the circuit.
It also means that dopamine release is reduced as well, with your ability to feel pleasure now drastically reduced. You experience tolerance, a state where you need to experience more and more of that substance or action in order to release the same amount of dopamine. This explains the predominance seeking behaviours commonly seen in long-term addiction. Eventually, areas outside of the reward pathways are affected to brain regions involved in decision making, judgments and even memory begin to physically change, with some areas having neurons added and some areas dying away. Get Directions Link
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