This week during the lecture a subject which was touched on was dopamine paths and receptors in the brain. Since dopamine creates pleasurable feelings when released, it can be easy to be addicted to any activity which releases the substance. One of the ways to release it is to use drugs, however many drugs cause significant negative health effects and death to the user if taken in too high concentrations which is easy to do due to their addictive nature.
When the neurotransmitter dopamine is released in the nucleus accumbens, the human mind feels the sensation of pleasure, hence the region is often referred to as the brain’s pleasure center. The intensity of pleasure depends on the amount of dopamine released in a short time period. Hence not all substances cause the same amount of pleasure, nor are they as addictive. As the mind is rewarded with a big dose of dopamine, it will be programmed to crave that same release. The intention of pleasure after all, is to motivate our mind to perform some beneficial action to either ourselves or to keep our species going. Hence eating tasty food and having sex release dopamine and are addicting.
Drugs bypass the dose which is naturally possible to release, the amount can be up to 10 times higher compared to the previously mentioned methods. As the “intended” amount is exceeded, there are negative consequences. The problem with drug use is that the brain adapts to the overwhelming amount of dopamine which is released by producing much less dopamine and eliminating dopamine receptors to try to lower the quantity to normal levels. This causes the situation where more drugs need to be taken to achieve the same intensity of pleasure, and as less and less dopamine is available, ultimately the original level of pleasure becomes impossible. Thus, the doses of drugs taken become higher and the effects lower, and the brain increasingly craves the pleasurable feeling which it has been trained to expect.
Recreational drugs are not deadly in small doses, but as explained before the users are compelled to increase the dosage. Not all drugs are as deadly, but some of the more dangerous ones are opioids. Heroin for example, which is an opioid, kills by respiratory failure. Another example is Cocaine which kills by heart attack, and many prescription drugs can be overdosed.
Drug overdose is the leading cause of death for Americans under 50.