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Biochemistry of Addiction

June 10, 2013
PET brain scans show chemical differences in t...

PET brain scans show chemical differences in the brain between addicts and non-addicts. The normal images in the bottom row come from non-addicts; the abnormal images in the top row come from patients with addiction disorders. These PET brain scans show that that addicts have fewer than average dopamine receptors in their brains, so that weaker dopamine signals are sent between cells. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have recently been feeling a bout of depression.  I began fatigued, withdrawn and isolated.  I have been through it before so I was aware of the dangers surrounding this depressed state.  I was at risk for relapse if I didn’t do something to pull myself out, as I’ve said, I have been here before and it scared me. I began to question the existence of God, my higher power and then started to feel like giving up and throwing in the towel. Not in a way where I would give into my addiction but give into the depression and not fight it, just ride it out and hope for the best.  I realized this weekend that there is no throwing in the towel when it comes to my disease and any areas of my life affected by it.

I started to think about the things I have read about the brain, the things I know about the chemistry behind depression and then I started to think about the neuroscience behind addiction. The mind is very complex and our brain is an organ full of firing neurons and receptors that follow neural pathways.  These pathways have a cause and affect job. Something stimulates the neuron, causes it to fire and are receptor is ready to receive the message and shoot it down the neurological pathway causing something to happen, an affect.

When a person is injured this neurological pathway is stimulated because of pain.  The receptors release the body’s natural painkillers, hormones that are like opiates. When people (like myself) abuse opiates it disrupts this process. There are many receptors waiting for the opiates and the body therefore doesn’t need to produce it’s own natural opiates.  So, when a person stops using opiates or any other substances that alters moods or emotions the body’s chemistry is completely messed up.  It is only natural for a person to experience a roller coaster of emotional states, anxieties , fears, depression and also intensified experiences of physical pain.

When a person experiences these “side affects” of recovery I feel that awareness of what’s happening to the body is a key factor in maintaining abstinence.    We can sense when we are experiencing these different states and reach out for help.  Every time we survive one of these difficult states and situations we become stronger and our brains are physically healing.  The brain is returning to healthy operation and balancing out its natural chemistry, releasing normal levels of hormones to respond to different sets of stimuli.  Some say it takes 90 days, some say over 18 months and some say it takes over two years before a person feels better.

I’m sure it is different for each person since each person has a different story with different experiences which also affects the brains chemistry.  It does take time though and then I feel it is appropriate to begin looking at the possibility of mental health diagnosis such as depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, etc.  Until then I believe it is too soon to determine any kind of mental health illnesses. This of course is only my opinion and definitely does not apply to every case, this is just my personal experience, observations and research. Bottom line it is important for us to be aware of the different emotional states affecting our lives during the first year or so of recovery.


From → Recovery

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