A General in the Drug War

by bagleys81 on May 15, 2017 - 6:46pm

               After our topic of drug abuse, the opiate blocker suboxone and addiction I wanted to look more into the picture behind what is really going on in someone’s brain when these drugs are present.  Contrary to popular belief, addiction is not always a choice.  Someone does not wake up one day and decide that their body is now dependent on a drug that they might have had only one time.  In the article A General in the Drug War it explains the background music of what is happening within a person’s brain experiencing drugs. 

               Dr. Nora D. Volkow, the neuroscientist in charge of the National Institute on Drug Abuse believes addiction is all about the dopamine that is within our brains.  Dopamine is a neurotransmitter and precursor of other substances within the brain including epinephrine.  Pain, pleasure and problems regarding to addiction all stem from the amount of dopamine the brain is producing at that moment.  Prescription narcotics along with controlled psychiatric medications are used more among high school teenagers than heroin and cocaine combined.  These medications unfortunately cannot just be banned from being prescribed because there are individuals who meet the criteria of needing these medications to help suppress pain.  

               Addictions tend to move in a similar pattern which share many similar triggers and the same biology. Addictive substances send dopamine levels in the small central zone of the brain which is the nucleus accumbens, the “feel good” location.  Different drugs affect the release of dopamine differently making the “high” stronger in some more than others.  Individuals who are addicted to certain drugs or who are first time users of that drug experience the high of the dopamine wave and could possibly continue using the achieve the same high that they first experienced. 

               Cocaine addicts who were watching a video of others taking drugs their dopamine levels surged within the part of their brain where habits and learning took place.  Having them experience a rush of happiness as they watched others take the drugs. Dopamine levels in ex addicts are reported to remain abnormally lower than those who have not experienced the drug.  Dopamine levels will spike if the drug of their choice is present.  “Nora is as responsible as anyone,” Dr. Des Jarlais said, “for showing that addiction really does cause changes in brain function. Her work is a primary basis for considering it a disease, rather than poor choices or immoral behavior.” (Zuger) A dribble of dopamine is far less addictive than a surge. 

               This article speaks volumes to me personally, there has been a constant battle between social science and the biochemistry behind addiction and the dopamine levels that affect the brain.  I agree with the information that is presented but also agree that there is a significant amount of choice when these situations are presented.  We are currently in an epidemic where we have people dying from overdoses what feels like almost daily.  I wonder if this information was taken and used more with the individuals who suffer from this disease if there would be less accidental overdoses and deaths.  The next generation of individuals who are affected by this disease should hopefully be able to receive more help from their providers.

Comments

Great article, Stephanie. One particular paragraph spoke volumes to me.
" Cocaine addicts who were watching a video of others taking drugs their dopamine levels surged within the part of their brain where habits and learning took place. Having them experience a rush of happiness as they watched others take the drugs. Dopamine levels in ex addicts are reported to remain abnormally lower than those who have not experienced the drug. Dopamine levels will spike if the drug of their choice is present. “Nora is as responsible as anyone,” Dr. Des Jarlais said, “for showing that addiction really does cause changes in brain function. Her work is a primary basis for considering it a disease, rather than poor choices or immoral behavior.” (Zuger) A dribble of dopamine is far less addictive than a surge."
I would argue that while the approach to rehabilitation must consider physiological as well as psychological approaches, we can no longer blame the addict for their behavior and consider addiction as just poor judgement.
Nice work!