What Happens to Serotonin & Dopamine When Your Loved One Has a Substance Use Disorder?
Dopamine is a chemical within the body that delivers messages between brain cells. It plays an important role in body movements, what we choose to eat, our mental learning processes, and the way we feel. These ‘messengers,’ or neurotransmitters, travel back and forth through the brain’s synapse to the nucleus accumbens, eventually sticking to molecules called dopamine receptors.
Take cocaine for example. Cocaine causes the brain to release more dopamine. The more dopamine that’s present in the synapse, the more joy we feel.
Dopamine manufactures pleasurable feelings that our brain associates with physiological survival behaviors such as physical activity, eating and sex. The reward of pleasurable feelings drives our compulsion to continue doing these things.
Drugs and alcohol overwhelm the synapse with an abundance of dopamine, creating a higher expectation of joyful or euphoric sensations when consumed. These superficial sensations are short-lived and over time, the brain is unable to naturally create the amount of dopamine it requires for healthy brain function. This makes the brain dependent on the substance as the ability to capture pleasurable feelings becomes increasingly elusive.
Confidence and happiness go hand in hand; it’s often difficult to have one without the other. It’s the same with dopamine and serotonin—joy is to dopamine as confidence is to serotonin.
Serotonin is created when we consume tryptophan or vitamin D. If a serotonin deficiency is present, one could be mislabeled as having anger management issues. Consuming alcohol, barbiturates or benzodiazepines can help relieve the symptoms of a serotonin deficiency; however, it can also lead to addiction, liver damage and even death.