Dopamine and How It Plays Out in Various Drug Addictions

Dopamine is a brain neurotransmitter responsible for generating many of the pleasurable feelings we all love to experience. A high level of dopamine in the brain can elevate mood, energy levels, motivation, and sex drive because it reduces the pituitary hormone prolactin. Prolactin is known for its ability to suppress energy and libido.

The way that many addictive stimulants, such as Cocaine, Methamphetamine, and prescription drugs, such as Adderall and Ritalin, produce their “high” is by inducing an increased level of dopamine in the user’s brain. If you have ever been around someone who is high on Cocaine, it probably seemed like he/she was in a great mood and had tons of energy. If you’ve ever been on Cocaine or any other type of stimulant yourself, something else you’ve probably realized is that sexual experiences were heightened. This is due to both the increased pleasure-inducing properties of dopamine as well as the reduction in libido-suppressing prolactin.

So if increasing dopamine can cause all these wonderful improvements in mood, energy, and sexual performance, why are Cocaine and Meth known as such destructive drugs? The answer has to do with the negative feedback loop caused by artificially raising the level of dopamine in your brain. A drug addiction can drastically change your brain’s natural ability to produce healthy amounts of dopamine and prolactin.

When you use a stimulant such as Cocaine, it causes your brain to soak in an increased level of dopamine. This results in all these wonderful feelings which probably enticed you to take the drug in the first place. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take long for your brain to realize that you have a higher level of dopamine than is regularly needed floating around and to adjust accordingly, it releases a lower-than-normal amount. Thus, when all the excess dopamine from the Cocaine wears off, you’re left with a level that is lower than where you started.

At this point, all those great feelings from having a high level of dopamine are reversed. Your dopamine levels are low, so you have less energy, less motivation, and less libido. This is known in drug vernacular as the “crash” which follows a great high, and many people remedy this crash by taking more of the drug to get back to feeling good again. At this point, a drug addiction is established.

Even worse is the fact that as your drug addiction becomes more demanding, your brain compensates by releasing less and less of its own natural dopamine. Therefore, each time you use the drug, you’re no longer getting a great high — instead, you’re just getting back to a baseline level of dopamine. The crashes get worse and worse as well, because the brain of one who has drug addiction is almost entirely bereft of dopamine without the help of the drug.

Clearly, drug addiction is a vicious cycle which leaves the addict feeling worse and worse without the drug and needing more and more of it just to feel anything close to normal. The only way to end a drug addiction is by dedicating oneself to an effective treatment program which is designed to break the physical, mental, and psychological strong hold that the drug has on the addict’s mind and body.

If you or someone you love is struggling with a drug addiction, don’t hesitate to take action. The sooner you seek treatment, the sooner you can get back to the ability to feel pleasure and fulfillment without relying on any drugs. Drug addictions can be beaten, but the first step is acknowledging the problem and calling for help.

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