Over 23 million Americans are addicted to alcohol or drugs (one in every 10 people). Are some people more prone to addiction than others?
Our brains have an “addiction center”! There is a center in the brain called the “nucleus accumbens” that is in control of our cravings. It is also called our reward center.
In our daily lives, the nucleus accumbens is important for survival. When we get to eat or drink, for example, a chemical called dopamine is released in our brain’s reward center and it makes us feel good. Dopamine is released with pleasures such as food, water, exercise, money, and sex.
But the chemical dopamine is also released with tobacco, alcohol, and drugs like amphetamine, cocaine, and morphine.
There are special x-rays called “PET scans” that show that the brains 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 show 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: