Almost all drugs directly or indirectly impact the reward system in our brain. The neurotransmitter dopamine is often called the feel good chemical.
Normal and natural behaviors such as exercise, eating, leisure activities with family and friends activate our reward system in our brain. When a person ingests drugs and alcohol they over stimulate the pleasure center of their brain and excessive amounts of dopamine is released. As a result, the brain adapts to the surges of dopamine by producing less dopamine in an attempt to maintain a chemical balance. The imbalance and a deficient dopamine level is a recipe for depression and anxiety. The individual will then begin to abuse alcohol and drugs to create the dopamine high which is highly desired. The chasing of the dopamine high initiates a destructive cycle that can destroy an individual’s life and negatively alter the future for not only this individual but also their families and friends. This cycle of substance abuse may last for decades and have long-term health consequences. Brain imaging studies have indicated long term effects on judgment, memory, behaviors and mood disruptions. It is noted that research and the countless experience of millions of sober and clean people are evidence that the negative effects of substance abuse can be greatly diminished and in some cases totally eliminated.
How do you get through the damaging effects of addiction?
When an individual gains insight into the damaging effects from alcohol and drug abuse and becomes willing to make changes, it is then possible to walk through the archway of recovery. In recovery, the individual requires strong support in many areas. There may be medical assistance from a doctor to address the dopamine imbalance and stabilize mood and anxiety. Individuals require a safe and secure environment away from the chaos and insecurity of the alcohol and drug world. Family, friends, support groups and 12 step programs can assist with creating these safe zones. In counseling, a therapist will help the individual to take a look back at the roots of their substance abuse and begin to develop a new perspective. One of the critical interventions that a counselor will introduce is the psycho-educational component regarding the chasing of the dopamine high. The client and counselor will discuss how the introduction of alcohol and drugs changed his/her healthy neuro-pathways and altered brain chemistry.
What else helps during recovery besides abstinence?
The counselor and client will explore how healthy activities prior to the introduction of drugs released the appropriate levels of dopamine. Clients will be encouraged to seek out healthier activities and relationships to obtain those good feelings without drugs and alcohol. This is easier said then done, very often the client is feeling depressed and anxious for prolonged periods of time after the cessation of chemical substances. A thorough psychiatric evaluation may indicate the necessity for medications to elevate the mood and diminish anxiety symptoms. In many instances, no medication is required and the individual is strongly encouraged to participate in therapy and other supportive interventions to assist with the building of a new life free from chemical substances. In therapy, the individual will learn to create meaningful changes and build a fuller and richer life based on values and principles.