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How are Neurotransmitters Associated with Addiction?

A doctor reviewing brain scans and looking at the brain anatomy while researching addiction.
Neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin play a significant role in the development of addiction.

Taking a bite of a fluffy cake topped in decadent buttercream frosting tastes delicious. So delicious, in fact, that we undoubtedly come back for seconds. The reason we get such pleasure from delectable desserts is because of the flurry of neurotransmitter activity occurring behind the scenes in our brains.

Your brain responds to every experience you have, from the words you’re currently reading in this blog to the foods you eat throughout the day. A key part of your brain’s response – whether it’s to eating a tasty pastry or succumbing to a sinister habit like substance abuse – involves the production and release of neurotransmitters.

What are Neurotransmitters?

To understand what neurotransmitters are, it’s necessary to understand the process of neurotransmission. Your brain is made up of nearly 90 billion neurons, or cells responsible for receiving sensory information from everything you see, touch, taste, smell and hear.

Of course, all this sensory information means nothing without neurotransmission. Neurotransmission is the process of transferring sensory information in the form of chemical signals from one neuron to the next. Each neuron creates different types of neurotransmitters, which carry these chemical signals throughout the brain and affect how we think, feel and behave.

For example, when you take a bite of that delicious cake, information about the experience is stored in neurons that release the neurotransmitter, dopamine. Dopamine is responsible for regulating feelings of motivation and reward, making you feel good when you indulge in the dessert.

Alcohol and drug abuse trigger the same types of neurotransmitters as sugary and sweet desserts, but in such a way that it actually rewires the brain and changes how it functions.

The Role Neurotransmitters Play in Addiction

All drugs – from alcohol to heroin – trigger the release of dopamine in the brain area known as the nucleus acumbens, resulting in feelings of euphoria and the desire to indulge in the substance of choice again.

However, different drugs can stimulate or inhibit different types of neurotransmitters in the brain beyond dopamine. For example, alcohol increases the amount of dopamine while also inhibiting the GABA neurotransmitter, causing symptoms like sluggish movements and slurred speech. Other drugs will actually mimic natural neurotransmitters in the brain in order to trigger the desired response. For example, prescription painkillers and heroin will stimulate endorphin receptors to cause a “high.”

Ongoing alcohol or drug use is so dangerous because it can rewire the brain and make it reliant on the substance being abused. If you’re drinking or using drugs on a regular basis, that constant stimulation and inhibition of neurotransmitters will lead to tolerance and addiction. This requires an addiction treatment center to help your brain heal and re-adjust to life without substance abuse.

How Addiction Treatment Can Bring Your Brain Back into Balance

By time you’re addicted to alcohol or drugs, your brain relies on that overstimulation and inhibition of neurotransmitters in order to function properly. At this point, your brain struggles to naturally produce and release neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin and endorphins.

At addiction treatment centers like The Raleigh House, a key goal is to help your brain recover to the point where it can manage neurotransmission normally again. We leverage detox to get the alcohol or drugs out of your system, then use evidence-based treatments, a pro-recovery diet and experiential therapies like exercise and equine therapy to continue your brain’s recovery.

Get Evidence-Based Treatment to Help Your Brain Heal After Addiction

At The Raleigh House, we have over 10 years of experience helping people just like you overcome their addictions and return to fulfilling, sober lives. Leveraging an “east to west” approach to treatment that involves both evidence-based treatments and experiential therapies, we can help get you to a point where exercise, socialization and healthy foods trigger rewarding thoughts and feelings instead of alcohol or drugs.

If you’re ready to find lasting recovery from addiction, don’t wait another minute. Contact our admissions team today to learn how to get started.

Call Now: 720-891-4657

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