Hormones are the chemical messengers of the body and function similarly to the red and green signals of a stoplight. These powerful molecules can both regulate or disrupt everything from organ function to human development to mood. Mounting evidence has shown that hormones also play a pivotal role in the development of addiction, with one in particular at the root of this chronic disorder. In this article, we’ll explore which hormone is responsible for addiction and the pathway in which it does so.
An Addiction Hormone: Is There Such A Thing?
Dopamine is widely regarded as the hormone responsible for addiction, primarily due to its role in producing feelings of euphoria. This reputation is only partially true, however. Dopamine is indeed closely associated with feelings of pleasure and motivation, which in turn can result in compulsive behavior that eventually gives way to addiction. Though it possesses this and several other key mechanisms, it is not solely responsible for the multi-faceted disease that is addiction and is merely one of several chain reactions that contributes to the development of this debilitating chronic condition.
Ways That Dopamine Contributes To Addiction
Activates the Reward Center
Dopamine is hugely impactful on the reward center of the brain. This neurohormone plays an integral role in feelings of happiness and pleasure (so much so that it is nicknamed the “happy hormone”) and determines whether individuals find a behavior or substance rewarding or aversive. Dopamine is also strongly tied to the formation of memories, and the presence of positive feelings strongly incentivizes the repetition of that behavior which lays much of the groundwork for the development of addiction.
To put it simply: if something makes your brain feel good, your brain is going to push you to continue that action. And that ‘something’ isn’t just limited to drug use. It can include all sorts of behaviors such as gambling, eating, sex, playing video games, or shopping. It is safe to assume that most compulsory acts can be traced back to dopamine.
Despite popular belief, dopamine itself is not the cause of feelings of pleasure. Those feelings are actually generated by neurotransmitters: serotonin, endorphins, and oxytocin, all of which are merely influenced by dopamine.
Dopamine plays a regulatory role in emotional functions. Having too much or too little of this vital neurochemical has been linked to a number of mental health disorders including depression, schizophrenia, and psychosis. The symptoms of which can involve mood swings, low self-esteem, anxiety, low energy, increased impulsiveness, and impaired judgment.
These factors can all contribute to individuals engaging in potentially addictive behaviors because they are less risk-averse or seeking to self-medicate. The correlation between mental illness and addiction is complex, but long since proven by numerous studies.
Compulsively partaking in pleasurable activities can overload the reward center with dopamine. The brain then attempts to protect itself by limiting dopamine response which it does in two ways. First, by reducing the number of dopamine receptors, and second, by decreasing natural dopamine production. This makes it physically impossible for the individual to derive the same amount of pleasure as in previous times. This is what’s known as tolerance.
The result: greater amounts of a drug or action are required to satisfy the craving. These larger, and often, more frequent, instances of drug usage can cause a physical dependence on the substance. Even more harmful is the psychological dependence on the substance which is the ultimate hallmark of addiction.
Dopamine & Addiction
Dopamine’s role is often misappropriated to the feel-good feelings associated with its release, however, its involvement is actually far more complicated than that. Dopamine’s ability to positively reinforce certain behaviors as part of the reward pathway; to make individuals more prone to indulge in those behaviors (and make it hard to stop); and to force greater, more frequent stimulation, deeply roots dopamine’s role in the development of addiction.
However, even with that being said, there is no single hormone or neurotransmitter responsible for addiction. This chronic disease is a complex brain disorder that is made up of numerous, interconnected factors. For this reason, effective addiction treatment requires addressing both the physical and psychological aspects of addiction simultaneously.
We’re Here To Help
If you or a loved one needs extended addiction treatment support, consider a luxury detox and addiction treatment center like that of Amethyst Recovery Center. Our facility offers a safe and comfortable space for addicted individuals to get the help they need, in a welcoming environment with top-of-the-line equipment and personnel. We offer a variety of treatment options including dual diagnosis and a holistic approach. Learn more about your options by calling today.