Understanding Dopamine and How It’s Related to Addiction


Addiction on wood background

If you’re learning some of the basics of addiction and how it affects the body, it can be a little overwhelming to hear of the various chemicals in the brain. Dopamine is a major component of addiction because it relates directly to how and why a person’s mind and body come to connect with a substance. If you’ve recently begun treatment for substance abuse, you will learn even more about addiction and what you can do to break the cycle.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter in the brain that controls the brain’s reward and pleasure centers. This neurotransmitter is located deep within the middle of the brain, called the substantia nigra. There are 5 dopamine receptors in the brain and throughout the body, and they are labelled as D1, D2, D3, D4, and D5. Dopamine affects mood, sleep, learning, concentration, and movement, making it an integral part of functioning. Dopamine deficiency has been shown to be a major contributing factor in depression and other medical conditions such as Parkinson’s disease.

Dopamine may be released in the brain through a variety of external stimulants – substances, money rewards, sexual encounters, delicious food, and more can all cause the body to release dopamine, leaving you with feelings of pleasure and contentment.  Once dopamine has been released, the brain’s hippocampus – responsible for memory – lays down the pathways to remember the feelings that certain stimuli produce. With drug and alcohol use, a surge of dopamine is released, and the impact it has on the brain depends on the speed the substance enters the body, the intensity of the dopamine release, and the reliability the body has on that release.

Over time, the body learns to adapt to the surge of dopamine that is released through substance abuse. Also known as tolerance, a person will need to consume the substance more often and/or in higher doses to feel the pleasure effects of dopamine release. Since the brain has learned that more substances equal more pleasure, it eventually comes to expect this, and a person may feel sad, depressed, angry, irritated, and more if the body’s expectation is not met. This is the path that leads to addiction, as many people do not seek help before addiction is reached.

If you have been struggling with substances, make the decision to seek help today. It is never too late. The sooner you seek treatment, the quicker you can recover from the damages that substance abuse causes.

Simple Recovery is a world-renowned, California state-licensed substance abuse treatment program. We believe in holistic recovery, meaning that we will work with you to restore your mind, body, and spirit. If you’re seeking a treatment center that focuses primarily on mental health, call our parent property, New Vista Behavioral Health, at 855-398-7959. If you’re seeking treatment for either substance abuse or dual diagnosis, call us at 888-743-0490. There are many people that can help you develop the tools you need to succeed.