August 7, 2008
I’m interested in ways in which people can receive a nice dopamine, serotonin or norephenephrine surge in the brain without it setting themselves up for addiction. When an addictive substances is first used, the brain is stimulated in certain reward areas. The next time the substance is used, there is less of a reward sensation. Eventually, after the addictive cycle is repeated 50 or 60 times, the individuals dopamine levels are no longer in the “happy” stage. In between “fixes,” they will even experience such low dopamine levels that they have a very sad or empty feeling. At this point, they begin turning to their addiction just to come up to neutral levels of dopamine. In other words, they are no longer engaging in their addiction to “get high.” They are “doing it” just to get numb.
Unfortunately, even behavioral addictions (which don’t involve substances) can elicit this same response. Certain activities, such as gambling, pornography, movie addiction, rock music, etc. can actually raise the dopamine to an almost euphoric level. Unfortunately, these levels drop below neutral thereafter. This is in contrast to activities such as taking a walk in the park, seeing a beautiful sunset, reading a thought provoking book, meditating on a passage from scripture, or eating a watermelon, mango, or other piece of natural fruit. In such cases the dopamine levels do not go as high. The higher levels of dopamine last much longer, but they also do not go as low when the natural “high” is over, eventually just going down to but not below neutral.
Another way to get a natural, non-damaging high was recently discovered and published in the July 2008 Journal of Pediatrics. Investigators found that when mothers saw the faces of their own infants, key reward-related areas of their brains lit up. Pet scans taken during the study suggested increased blood flow to the areas of the brain involved in thinking, movement, behavior, and emotion. Interestingly enough, these are the same areas of the brain which have been activated in other experiments associated with drug addiction.
According to Dr. Lane Strathern, of the Human Neuro Imaging Laboratory of Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, seeing the smiling face of your own baby brings you a natural high.
Topics: Health News