National Geographic – The Science of Addiction (Here’s Your Brain on Drugs)

National Geographic – The Science of Addiction (Here’s Your Brain on Drugs)


what are your fiercest cravings whether we’re ducking out for a smoke going for glory at the blackjack table or drowning our sorrows in a glass of wine we all have ways that we seek to push our pleasure buttons but what happens when this need for pleasure becomes a full-time pursuit when our fix it turns into something more like a dependence used to be that addiction was considered a sort of moral failing but now with a much better understanding of how the human brain works scientists are learning new clues about the vicious cycle of desire binging and withdrawal that traps tens of millions of people our brains evolved the reward system based on a chemical called dopamine this amazing neurotransmitter creates cravings in us to encourage behaviors that help us survive such as eating procreating or interacting socially in turn pleasure is then stimulated by other neurotransmitters in hedonic hotspots of the brain when dopamine’s craving circuitry overwhelms to pleasure hot spots addiction occurs essentially your reward system is hijacked let’s break it down this way your desires are triggered when dopamine starting at the top of the brain stem travels through neural pathways to affect the brain drugs increase this flow of dopamine where does the dopamine go it flows throughout the brain’s craving circuit including the dorsal striatum where brain nerve cells called neurons begin to form habits by I deem fun things that you’ve done like buying drugs or cigarettes dopamine also goes to the prefrontal cortex or with the help of an amino acid called glutamate rich visualizations that cue cravings are conjured think images of drug paraphernalia sex or a bottle of booze then there’s the amygdala where the dopamine causes neurons here to be stimulated by learned emotional responses like rich pleasure coated memories so what happens when drugs artificially flood these pathways with dopamine for one thing the rush can rewire your brain to want more drugs and thus create addiction but it turns out different drugs interact with the reward system in unique and interesting ways cocaine for example blocks dopamine transporters and prevents the removal of excess dopamine from synapses methamphetamine on the other hand floods the terminals of neurons displacing dopamine into synapses instead and heroin blocks dopamine inhibitors and causing synapses to flood with dopamine without restraint the good news with a refined understanding of the devastating effects of these drugs comes new angles and approaches to the treatment of addiction that have shown remarkable promise cocaine addicts have been able to shut off their cravings abruptly when electromagnetic pulses are applied to their prefrontal cortex a drug hitherto used to treat muscle spasms called baclofen has shown promise for treating alcohol dependence as more and more of our friends and family are affected by crippling addiction it’s comforting to know that we are finally finding effective ways to take our brains back you [Music]

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