Who Put the Demon In Dopamine?

When one’s to take an epidemiological approach to a socially impacted public health problem, the progress of such steps towards complete eradication often start ridiculously and inefficiently with that four letter word, the stigma.

Indeed, much time is wasted in even discerning the value of the affected population in the first place.  We saw it with such genocides as that of our Native Americans, the Armenians and the South African Apartheid wars.  Oh don’t worry, there were many more than that.

We saw it with AIDS.  In fact, we STILL see it with AIDS.  We are seeing it now with the opiate epidemic that is losing us half a generation, which is something Hunter Thompson himself predicted would happen someday when asked about the long-term consequences of the Nixon-Reagan drug plague.

Stigmas often surround any illness associated with behavior that is not socially accepted.  If you’re getting sick from having gay sex or using drugs, well, you shouldn’t have been doing that in the first place. Therefore, one must bear the malady upon our bodies with the scarlet letter ‘A,’ this time for addiction. Our “civil” members of society deem those afflicted by the illness undeserving of the help they need to become healthy.

Are these sorry stricken, Darwinian speaking, simply weaker members of the heard?  To which a fate of being plucked from our ranks in evolutionary locomotion is as natural a progression of the circle of life, such as, par example, rings grow around an oak?

Or is it, perhaps, a more curious materialization of the sabotaged relationship we have with ourselves?  Our self that is times three psychical, that is, biological, coupled with mental partnered with——————–SOUL.

Eh?  Ehhhhhhhhh? 

Has it been societally decreed that the mind must always be in control of the body, that the body has no autonomy to control our mind and that our souls, which *above all* do not exist, certainly are given no recognition nor accountability for our behaviors?

That we do not gain some small pleasure from the behaviors our bodies and souls drive us to do?????

Pleasure being defined as dopamine, a powerful neurotransmitter which travels within our mesolimbic that is, “reward” pathway from somewhere in our neck’s spinal cord to somewhere deeeeeep in our old brain.  You know, the Cerebellum. Gorilla brain. Think Darwin tee shirt.

The extent that were working within our lesser evolved homo sapien path. Those are the parts responsible for behavior such as hunting, fucking and moving. This part of the brain is deeply wired with our spinal sword hence the basal location at the bottom of the brain. It’s the command execution center, the.applocation of thought into motor neuron pathway. Which always goes from brai the , to chord, to nerves, to muscles forofement It’s the part of the brain at the bottom that looks like a pound of raw ground beef.

The movement of dopamine from this old brain drives this system to give the brain sensations of pleasure and reward-related motor functioning learning.  This according to my school training and that tricky dick of a pedia they call Wiki.  Here is a picture from the Wiki, verified from my schooling, because here, at Gonzo Today, we like the truth served straight!

Pathways and Brain Function

As you can see in the image, there are several pathways in which dopamine can travel throughout the brain.  Each of these pathways contain receptors that produce different effects.  So even though dopamine is the same chemical, neurotransmitter, aka endorphin aka “mmmmmm” feeling, the areas of the brain which it stimulates, differ.  That is why dopamine can control so many behaviors in our body.

Dopamine is responsible for muscle movement.  It sends signals from our brain to the fibers in our muscles to make them move, or not move.  The more dopamine on board in a certain area, the less likely the muscles are to move.  For example, ever witness a baby’s ‘milk coma’ or a friend’s ‘food coma?’  They are so blissfully happy, they do not move, after the satiety hormone, liptin, has traveled from their stomach to their brain’s dopamine pathways to tell the brain it is full, which tells dopamine to flood our pleasure zones.

Our brain has this pathway to make us feel rewarded by eating.  Because we have to eat.  Otherwise we’ll die.  It’s the same reason why we get “reward” feelings from dopamine after drinking when we’re thirsty or emptying our bladders and bowels when the urge arises, because if we didn’t, we would die.  It’s the same reason we get “reward” feelings for sexual mating, because if we did not, our species would die.  Do you see the pattern?  Dopamine is responsible for keeping us repeating behaviors that prevent us from dying.

Drugs of abuse such as cocaine, heroin, prescription pain pills, amphetamines and crystal meth, high jack these dopamine reward pathways in our brain.

If a human brain is exposed to any of these drugs, especially on a regular basis, the brain through repetitive motion and preservation, will eventually develop a pathway for the dopamine reward cycle brought on by the drug.  Meaning that eventually the feeling we have about the drug becomes associated with the above mentioned “reward feelings” associated with all the behaviors engaged in while preparing to take the drug and the rewarding, satisfying  feelings after. To stop this behavior cycle is to stop the feeling that rewards us for behaving in ways that keep us alive. Therefore, when we stop the addictive behavior, we feel like we’re dying. And if you are going to argue that folks should man up and power through because “feeling” like you’re dying isn’t the same as actually dying, you should totes Google this torture term titled “water boarding.”

This makes sense. Because if a drug (or anything, really) gives the brain the same feeling as an orgasm or a good meal, a good piss or a good sh—-ahem. Well, you get the picture. If our brains experience intense pleasure brought on by dopamine flooding the pleasure zone, that means that dopamine is present in great quantities in the brain’s mesolimbic, reward pathway.

Incidentally, this pathway connects quickly and strongly with the brain’s frontal lobe, which controls socialization, decision making, hearing, emotion, focus and communication. (Hence, ADD drugs help ya focus, but too much can make you a psycho person who hears shit in your head.)

Psychotic behavior and the voices are caused by a flood of dopamine in this frontal lobe. Amphetamine (Adderall), dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine), methylphenidate (Ritalin) phencyclidine (PCP), methylene-dioxy-methamphetamine (MDMA, ecstasy) are all stimulants that help with focus, communication and reward. Because they bring dopamine to the frontal lobe of the brain where these behaviors are circuited. This is a boost in ability for brains diagnosed with ADD or other genetic behavioral issues, which is physiologically characterized as lack of dopamine in the frontal lobe.

Schizophrenia is the opposite. Schizophrenia is a genetic disorder of too much dopamine in the frontal lobe. Schizophrenia is classified by auditory hallucinations. That is medical speak for “I hear unreal things inside my head.” If you have a schizophrenic in your community, many homeless people are, and want to help, get them a portable music player and/or headphones.  Music is game changing therapy for auditory hallucinations. Music is a socially acceptable, non-pharmacological way to drown out the voices.

Brains which suffer from psychotic hallucinations get prescribed “antipsychotics” aka dopamine aka D2 receptor blockers, which restrict dopamine from the flooding the frontal lobe. The problem with these drugs is they aren’t specific. Not only do they block dopamine from its receptors in the frontal lobe., they block it everywhere else. And because the presence dopamine stops movement, the absence of dopamine promotes movement.

A person suffering from Parkinson’s disease, for example, does not have enough dopamine to control their muscles from moving, or synapsing all the time. In the case of Parkinson’s, this is due to a break down in the dopamine system in the neurons that gets worse over time. We still don’t understand much about its origin.

One of the first and most common medications used for Parkinson’s is a drug called carbidopa-levodopa. These are chemical precursors for dopamine that will help the system have more dopamine on boardtreat it with  It’s a serious disease that can also be brought about by anti-psychotic medications, which are first line treatment for schizophrenia.

Most antipsychotics are some type of dopamine blocker. They block dopamine specifically in the frontal lobe of the brain. Side effects of anti-psychotics are uncontrolled, sporadic muscle movements usually the limbs and tongue. Other anti-psychotics can cause poor gait (that’s your Thorazine shuffle).

Dopamine is demonic in the sense that it links pleasure with stimulation and can be catastrophic when out of balance. Just like any cycle, when it moves too fast, things tend to break down. It must be regulated.

Addiction is simply a cycle that started with a purpose. A mechanism of pleasure to cope with pain. But when there’s too much pain, we can’t exactly load enough pleasure to counter act that without establishing an imbalanced cycle starting. Burn, douse and heal. Burn, douse and  heal. After addiction we all become blackened earth, with all the hope of a new forest.

Recovering addicts are often successful when they grow saplings of their former selves. Returning to music, art, a safe form of self-expression.

Everyone has their demons to battle. None of us should feel ashamed by this. It’s not what you’ve been cursed with that we judge ourselves but by how we handle it.

Dopamine has been in our bodies forever. Addiction is. It a new dragon that has emerged from a secluded cave. It’s just the one we underestimated and ignored.

And thanks to our current record rates of clinical and economic depression fanning its flames, it’s bound to burn hotter before it ever cools down.

Dr. Ash Tree Gonzo
About Dr. Ash Tree Gonzo 41 Articles
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