New research from BYU finds that the brain’s attempts to compensate for the dopamine surges that drug users experience create a cycle of dopamine surges and suppression.
Steffensen’s research suggests that the process of a brain becoming addicted is similar to a driver overcorrecting a vehicle. When drugs and alcohol release unnaturally high levels of dopamine in the brain’s pleasure system, oxidative stress occurs in the brain.
Steffensen and his collaborators have found that the brain responds by generating a protein called BDNF (brain derived neurotrophic factor). This correction suppresses the brain’s normal production of dopamine long after someone comes down from a high. Not having enough dopamine is what causes the pains, distress and anxiety of withdrawal.
“The body attempts to compensate for unnatural levels of dopamine, but a pathological process occurs,” Steffensen said. “We think it all centers around a subset of neurons that ordinarily put the brakes on dopamine release.”