Normal Brain versus the Addicted Brain: The Difference
The Normal Brain:
Child touches hot stove — painful sensation transmitted to brain — brain transmits message to muscles to pull away instantly — memory indelibly etched in brain to avoid doing that again. Negative reinforcement for a negative event — this is an appropriate message.
Untreated diabetic experiencing lethargy, blurred vision, constant hunger, thirst and frequent urination receives first shot of insulin — negative symptoms go away — feels great, feels "normal" — message transmitted that this would be a good activity to repeat — positive reinforcement for a positive event — this is an appropriate message.
These messages to and from the brain are mediated by chemicals — called NEUROTRANSMITTERS. They include:
These chemicals help regulate various systems of the body that affect emotions and behavior — e.g., pleasure, pain, depression, etc.
For the purpose of simplicity, we will focus on one neurotransmitter that research shows plays an important part in addiction — DOPAMINE — the neurotransmitter that mediates pleasure.