Addiction and the Brain

Pleasure has a purpose. Nature evolved it to help us survive and enjoy life long-term. This idea holds the key to maximizing your real pleasure and warding off addiction.

Here’s how mother nature connects pleasure and purpose:

The pleasure of nutritious food – tasting great – encourages us to eat. This is healthy and is connected to the purpose of survival. Yours.

The pleasures of sex – orgasm and closeness – encourage us to have sex. This keeps you connected to a partner and gives nature a chance to ensure future generational survival.

The pleasure of making the sale or almost any work – a sense of achievement – is, ultimately, connected to the purpose of helping others and furthering human survival.

Connect pleasure and purpose.

The difficulty is, these things take effort first. To eat, you have to grow, harvest, transport and prepare the food. To have loving sex you have to find and work on a relationship. To achieve and contribute takes the effort of finding a job and turning up.

Still, the pleasure is worth the effort.

When you keep pleasure and purpose connected, you have a winning combination for your brain. You keep excited to put in effort to get more pleasure. This drives you forward for a lifetime of pleasure and purpose.

But! …

Our lazy brain will find ways to go for the pleasure without the effort or purpose. That’s the problem! That’s what leads us into trouble: disconnecting pleasure and purpose.

The costs in using street drugs – the ultimate pleasure without purpose – are significant, including death. Gambling and porn also disconnect pleasures. The costs include broken relationships, financial ruin and erection dysfunction.

We get sucked into these things because our brain enjoy dopamine.

Dopamine in the brain

Brain chemicals are manipulated by things that are addictive. That’s why anyone with a brain can get addicted. Amphetamines, for example, get the brain to release a heap of chemicals; particularly the pleasure-chemical dopamine. Dopamine hits feel fantastic. But drugs cheat your brain of real pleasure connected to purpose.

Your limbic system produces dopamine which mediates our experience of pleasure. Pleasurable dopamine hits are good for survival: food, water, sex, resting, singing, and dancing. But! You usually have to put in effort to get the dopamine hits which are good for survival.

When we learned to manufacture amphetamines in the boot of a car, giant dopamine hits became possible without effort or purpose. The world feels good for a short time. Your brain craves more. You’re on your way to addiction: giant pleasure, no effort, no purpose.

Addictions happen when your brain gets chemical hits for no effort or purpose.

We are biologically driven away from pain and towards pleasure. People who experience abuse (pain) are at a much greater risk of the transient pleasure of drug abuse.[1] Lonely people (emotional pain) are at higher risk of alcohol dependence.[2]  

Work through loneliness and past hurts to decrease the risk of addictions.

Your limbic system, like a toddler, wants the pleasure without the effort. This is why drugs and other addictions are problems: they cause massive dopamine pleasure without effort. The limbic system yells for the same pleasure again and again.

The limbic system is spontaneous and playful like a child, but it can be demanding, thoughtless and even self-destructive. We need to guide it towards lasting pleasure by connecting pleasure and purpose.

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[1] Dube, Shanta R., et al. "Childhood abuse, neglect, and household dysfunction and the risk of illicit drug use: the adverse childhood experiences study."Pediatrics 111.3 (2003): 564-572.

 

[2] Åkerlind, Ingemar, and Jan Olof Hörnquist. "Loneliness and alcohol abuse: A review of evidences of an interplay." Social science & medicine 34.4 (1992): 405-414.

 

Christian HeimComment