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San Diego Sober Living - Recovery

The Neurochemistry Behind Dopamine: A Path to Recovery from Addiction

Neurochemistry is a scientific field often compared to quantum physics in the sense that both generate prodigious quantities of research, but the steady flow of findings often raises more questions instead of providing absolute answers. Both fields focus on mysterious particles we can barely measure in the nanometer range. While quantum researchers scratch their heads at the complexity of the Higgs boson that somehow creates cohesion between elementary particles, neuroscientists are fascinated by the growing body of research surrounding the dopamine neurotransmitter, which is intrinsic to addiction recovery treatment.

Understanding the Role of Dopamine in Chemical Dependence

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays a substantial role in motivation, reward, and pleasure. When someone is healthy, dopamine release is triggered by natural rewards like exercise, social interaction, and achieving goals. Let’s say the highlight of your day involves coming home and being greeted by loved ones or enthusiastic pets. That happy glow you feel is largely caused by dopamine release. 

Addictive substances or compulsions can hijack the dopamine generation, release, and reuptake systems, which work like circuits, thus causing neurotransmitter surges that reinforce the addictive behavior. Repeated surges can lead to a decrease in the brain’s natural dopamine production. When this happens, addiction sets in because the circuit has been hijacked by psychoactive substances.

Normalizing Dopamine Production

The euphoric effects of substance abuse are largely caused by the rush and depletion of dopamine along with other neurotransmitters such as serotonin and gamma-aminobutyric acid. Let’s say an alcoholic feels terrible after getting fired for being drunk on the job. If she thinks hitting the bottle would be the only way to find relief, that’s her brain reward circuit reminding her that a flood of ethanol molecules is needed to release enough dopamine to cope with the situation. This is when addiction recovery strategies must be implemented, and the goal is to bring dopamine production back to normal.

The Magic of Brain Plasticity

While medical researchers still have a lot to learn about neurochemistry, the ability of the brain to bounce back from chemical dependence is well-known. Neuroplasticity is how the brain adapts and changes throughout life. Even after the disruptions caused by addiction, the brain can learn new patterns and “rewire” itself to function in a healthier state. Previous neural connections and neurotransmitter pathways can be restored. This is what happens when we learn, fall in love, deal with grief, accept life disruptions, or grow closer to others.

Strategies for Rewiring Brain Circuits through Recovery

Realizing substance abuse has turned against you is a first step toward weakening the old connections created by psychoactive substances. The next step is detoxification, which may need modulation for patients with opioid addictions. 

After detox, the process of strengthening new pathways begins, and this is when rewiring starts through healthy activities that naturally increase dopamine production. In Solana Beach sober living housing, such activities include a structured lifestyle, group meetings, chores, nutrition, counseling, hobbies, and more. 

More focused strategies include classic conditioning, cognitive behavioral therapy, and lifestyle changes. Some patients may benefit from antidepressant medications that modulate serotonin release. This strategy is recommended when there are underlying mental health issues. 

Addiction impacts every aspect of physical and mental health, and it’s a serious problem that requires professional treatment. If you or someone you love is addicted to drugs or alcohol, seek help from a medical professional or another person you trust to help you explore options for treatment and continuing support, such as recovery coaching. Solana Beach men who need help with forming new sober lifestyle habits can reach out to the dedicated team at Casa Pacifica for the guidance they need. Give us a call today.

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