UNDERSTANDING SUBSTANCE USE DISORDERS
Learn more about the neurochemistry
THE BRAIN CHEMISTRY PROBLEM OF
To understand the significance of the Parallax Center's work, it is important to understand the neurochemical mechanisms by which people become addicted to a chemical substance, whether it be alcohol, heroin, or a stimulant like cocaine.
THE BRAIN BEFORE DEPENDENCY
The place to start is in the brain, where a number of reinforcement mechanisms exist -"reward pathways"- that depend on several different biochemical substances called neurotransmitters for normal functioning. The neurotransmitters are dopamine, serotonin, opiate peptides and gamma-aminobutyrate (GABA). Neurotransmitters are responsible for regulating mood.
HOW DEPENDENCY AFFECTS BRAIN FUNCTION
Dopamine, serotonin, GABA and opiate peptides are necessary to experience feelings of euphoria, energy, self-esteem and a sense of well being. Substances of abuse, such as heroin, cocaine and alcohol, cause a magnification of the effects of these neurotransmitters by over stimulating the receptor sites in the brain associated with each neurotransmitter. The elevation in mood caused by this overstimulation is so pleasurable that it creates a desire for continued use of the substance. However, when overstimulation occurs, the brain reacts by reducing production of the neurotransmitters to attempt to maintain a normal level of neurotransmitter activity.
Consequently, more frequent and higher doses of the substance of abuse are necessary to induce pleasure. Furthermore, when the pleasurable "high" from the substances wears off, the brain experiences more acutely the lack of neurotransmitters caused by reduced production, and symptoms such as depression and anxiety begin. At this point, memories of the euphoric experience of the abused substance cause a craving for more of the substance, and the cycle of use continues.