23 Million Americans are addicted to alcohol or drugs (one in every 10 people). Why are some people more likely to get addicted than others? Are some people more prone to become addicted?
Our brains have an “addiction center”! There is a center in the brain called the “Nucleus Accumbens” that is felt to be our addiction center. The Nucleus Accumbens is basically a reward system, and is actually important for survival. When we experience the need for hunger or water for example, a chemical called Dopamine is released in our brain’s reward center and it makes us feel better. The chemical is released with food, water, exercise, money, and sex.
But the release of this chemical is also released with tobacco, alcohol, and drugs like amphetamines, cocaine, and morphine.
There are special x-rays called “PET scans” that show that the brain of addicts light up differently because of exposure from drugs. Eventually this can actually cause a change in the brain circuits.
How can this information help addicts? New studies are showing that some medications and types of therapy can target this reward system to help fight addictive behavior.
Normal PET scan on Left, and patient with Meth abuse on Right: