Updated: Jun 6, 2020
Disclaimer - What is written in my blogs is from my own experience of the world with an addition of scientific evidences and references
What is the link between alcohol, drugs and the reward system?
#Alcohol and #Drugs, two widely consumed and highly addictive substances, but what do we know about them? What is the reason why people become so addicted to these vices? Well every person has what we call a Reward System in the brain. This reward system is located in a specific part of the brain called the Mesolimbic Pathway and there is an area within this part called the Ventral Tegmental Area (VTA) which connects to the Nucleus Accumbens which is known as the 'reward centre'. This reward centre has wonderful uses, it's used for food, sex, listening to something nice etc. But the reward centre can also be hijacked by the dark side which is alcohol, drugs and any other type of addictive substances. So something which exists for a positive purpose can actually be used to a negative purpose also.
What happens to the brain when alcohol and drugs is consumed?
Once alcohol and drugs are consumed, there is an increase of dopamine consumption in the brain. Dopamine is simply like a 'feel good hormone' or 'happy hormone' because it does precisely that, it gives you that feel good sensation when it's released into the brain. This dopamine is released into the Nucleus Accumbens and gives an individual a feel good sensation. This sensation is what people keep trying to chase over and over again. It's that first 'buzz' or rush of dopamine from alcohol and drugs which they are trying to receive however trying to achieve this is very hard and all attempts to acquire the same rush requires extreme measures to gain it back again.
In other words, an individual becomes so densensitised to the original dopamine rush that in order for them to get the same feeling they got initially, it would require more and more consumption of the drug just to reach the same 'hit' or effect. So what are these extreme measures I have been hinting towards? The 'extreme measures' refer to an individual increasing their consumption of the substance/vice. So if the substance is alcohol, then they will drink more alcohol or if they take drugs, they will increase their drugs intake so they can gain that same gratification they had from the original dosage. It is this vicious cycle which keeps alcoholics and drug addicts coming back for more and more, hence they relapse and struggle to gain composure.
What steps should alcohol and drug addicts take to breaking the addiction?
Acknowledge the fact you have a problem -
Admitting to yourself that you have a problem which needs to be remedied is such a vital part of the process when it comes to recovery. The sooner you come to a realisation of your state, the sooner you can work on yourself for your physical health as well as your mental health. This is not at all about making yourself feel bad or making you go into a sad or depressive state, rather it is about empowering yourself and proving to yourself that you are strong enough to analyse your weaknesses and not only analyse them but fight your weaknesses in a smart and calculated manner through the following processes below.
Understand it may not be easy -
Coming to terms with the fact that it may be a long road to recovery is important because if you give yourself a specific date that you want to have removed the addiction by and if you haven't achieved this within that time frame you gave yourself, then you may feel highly demotivated to continue the process of eliminating the addiction. Everyone's road to recovery may be different to each other and understanding this is imperative. Don't compare yourself to other people as they are on their own journey. Some people may have more bumpy roads, whilst others may have less bumpy roads, but the point is you are all working towards achieving the same goal which is to be addiction free.
Stay around motivating people -
Engage with people who are supportive and inspiring. Do not hang around people individuals who make you feel bad about your addiction because this is not beneficial for your mental health. You do not need to be around people who are not inspiring you towards success, rather you need people to build you and empower you to become the best possible version of yourself.
Learn from relapses -
It is important to use your relapses to your advantage. Whenever you start the process of removing the addiction, note down somewhere the time it took for you to relapse and aim to beat that the next time round. By doing this you are using your previous relapse as a bench mark of how well you are doing. However you mustn't misunderstand this statement, if you don't 'beat' your previous abstinence period, it's not the end of the world, use the relapse as a learning curb as opposed to a hindrance. You should see it as something you can learn and grow from.
Professional Support -
This point is an essential one. Sometimes as thoughtful and helpful those around you may be, they most likely won't be able to provide you with the type of support a professional can provide you with. So it is important to see professionals who are specialists in addiction such as addiction counsellors, psychologists, therapists and so on. Do not feel embarrassed to speak to them as they know a lot of about addictions, psychological issues and mental health, so therefore should hopefully be able to provide you with solutions to your problems In'Sha'Allah.
Know your brain: Reward system — Neuroscientifically Challenged. (2020). Retrieved 6 June 2020, from https://www.neuroscientificallychallenged.com/blog/know-your-brain-reward-system
The Reward Pathway Of Addiction. (2020). Retrieved 6 June 2020, from https://www.addictioncampuses.com/blog/reward-pathway-of-addiction/