October Update

Bought a standard poodle puppy.  Bringing him home October 5, so October will be full of housebreaking, and FUN.



Entries in addiction (4)


Dopamine and Eating Disorders: Anorexia

Recently, I’ve been posting about dopamine and addictions.  Since dopamine is a “feel good” neurotransmitter, and has connections to food addiction, I’ve been wondering what it has to do with anorexia.

         Research on eating disorders is really in its infancy.  But there seem to be connections to dopamine.  Apparently, people who suffer from anorexia have an unusual reaction to this substance.  When dopamine flows in their brains, instead of feeling pleasure, they feel anxiety and fear.

         Not only do anorexics feel anxiety when they eat, they feel anxiety and worry about other things as well.  Some of their fears are similar to what happens in the brains of people suffering from obsessive/compulsive disorder.  The lives of anorexics are unpleasant and scary, to say the least.

         There are so many myths about anorexia, it’s a relief to realize that anorexia is very much a product of the anorexic’s brain chemistry.  But there is clearly a great deal more to be learned about eating disorders in general and anorexia in particular. 

         Stay tuned 


Dopamine, Learning, and Addiction

Yet more about brain chemistry and addiction:  A few years ago, the Harvard Mental Health Letter pointed out that the dopamine link is important with respect to learning.

         That is, when we do something pleasurable, the neurotransmitter dopamine is released in our brain and tells us to repeat the experience. 

         But dopamine is also involved in parts of the brain having to do with forming memories and learning.  So not only do we get the message to repeat the pleasurable experience, we also truly “learn” to repeat it.  Hence, we may become addicted.

         Of course, from the standpoint of evolution, we need to feel pleasure in learning, because learning was and is essential to our survival.  And we still enjoy learning new things, whether they are in in academics or entertainment or gossip.  I know I get a kick out of learning about the connection between dopamine and addiction—it explains a lot.

         Dopamine apparently is part of becoming addicted to alcohol, drugs, gambling, food, thrill seeking, etc.

         But ironically, dopamine also rewards use of recovery techniques, especially in twelve-step programs.  Recovering addicts experience the pleasures of spiritual practice and fellowship.  Clearly, we have a lot to learn about dopamine, the human brain, neurotransmitters, and who knows what else?


The Human Brain and Addiction, 2

In my last post, I spoke of Dr. Nora D. Volkow, Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and her message about addiction.  Dr. Volkow sees addiction as a psychological, or brain disease because it is a product of brain chemicals.

         In her appearance at a high school in Harlem in New York City, Volkow answered student questions about drugs and drug use and abuse.  Volkow’s answers were honest, based in brain science.  She told the students about brain development in adolescence and young adulthood.  She explained that the frontal cortex, the decision center of the brain, matures more slowly than, say, the amygdala, a center for emotion.  In adolescents, this temporary difference in development of two parts of the brain can lead to risk taking,  Risk taking is essential to stepping out on your own and to learning new things, but it can also lead to drug addiction or unsafe sex.

         Students asked Volkow about brain changes with marijuana use, and she told them about brain receptors involved in both marijuana use and learning.  Cannabinoid receptors get tied up by marijuana, and so cannot be used for learning!


The Human Brain and Addiction, 1

A week ago, The New York Times published a profile of Dr. Nora D. Volkow, Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.  She is a very appealing person to begin with, which helps a lot with her various campaigns:  She wants to interest people in the subject of addiction.  She wants to educate people about addiction.  And she wants to prevent and cure drug abuse.

         Dr. Volkow is physically attractive, with a shock of curly hair and a slim build.  She is a fascinating speaker, direct and straightforward, with a charming Mexican accent.  Her audience appeal includes teenagers, parents, journalists, and scientists.

         When Dr. Volkow speaks of brain neurotransmitters, especially dopamine, she is very convincing.  She explains addiction as a disease, and speaks of how to prevent or cure this disease.  She clearly cares deeply about human beings and wants to keep them from addiction or help them recover from addiction.

         More about this in my next post.