Our reward system and dopamine: A life-sustaining trap



The mind’s design, and the way it advanced, is tough to wrap one’s head round. Only one instance is our dopamine-driven reward system. With out it, we don’t exist. With it, the potential for a entice. It’s fascinating, so let’s dig in…

’This disconnection is a set-up for dependancy as we seek for different sources of dopamine. The ‘different sources’ look shockingly just like the checklist of frequent cultural complaints – overeating and weight problems, drug and alcohol abuse, consumerism, continual hooking up.’

It’s fairly frequent data that our reward system is a large consider substance use issues.

However what escapes the headlines is its position in any impulse management scenario: overeating, downside playing, extreme web use, hypersexual habits, explosive rage, and extra.

And, in fact, it may be a participant within the technology of temper and nervousness distress.

I discover the reward system fascinating and related to what we do right here on Chipur. And I believe you’ll too.

What say we get busy…

What’s the reward system?

The reward system is a gathering of mind constructions and neural pathways answerable for main cognitive features corresponding to habits studying by means of affiliation (classical conditioning), habits studying by means of reward and punishment (operant conditioning), motivation and longing for a reward, and constructive feelings – particularly these concerned with pleasure.

By design, the reward system is about survival behaviors – copy, consuming, socializing, bodily protection.


Anatomy of the reward system

There are quite a few items of anatomy that make the reward system roll. You possibly can see a few of them within the picture. Nonetheless, the heavy hitters are the ventral tegmental space (VTA) and nucleus accumbens (NA).

Now, the facility line of our reward system is the medial forebrain bundle (MFB). It’s the MFB, a neural pathway, that transmits alerts from the VTA to the NA.

Is smart that the MFB is ceaselessly known as the “hedonic freeway.” Utilizing medicine of abuse (DOA) for instance the purpose, when the MFB is blocked, the eager for them is significantly diminished or downright ceases.

The alerts that cross by means of the MFB are supported by dopaminergic (dopamine releasing) neurons. Usually talking, medicine that aren’t abused haven’t any impact on dopaminergic concentrations.


Attempting to cowl all the pieces in regards to the reward system’s physiology would exhaust each of us. So we’re going to fast-forward to the looks of the inhibitory neurotransmitter, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA).

In case you use a benzodiazepine, corresponding to alprazolam (Xanax) or clonazepam (Klonopin), you’re benefiting from their affect on GABA-A receptors.

Once more, for instance some extent, DOA act upon GABA receptors, which ends up in neurons being inhibited from firing. And that ends in the discharge of much less GABA onto dopaminergic neurons.

When that occurs, a disinhibition of dopaminergic neurons happens, which makes them hearth extra recurrently – releasing extra dopamine into our reward system.

And wouldn’t you already know it, increased dopamine concentrations lead to emotions of well-being, even euphoria. So the thrill is on.

Habit is on

Curiously sufficient, it’s by means of GABAs interplay with limbic system constructions – the amygdala, hippocampus, hypothalamus, thalamus, cingulate gyrus, and many others. – that we expertise nervousness discount, sedation, and behavioral disinhibition.

So, in truth, the elements of the mind that generate anxiety-reducing results are, let’s say, an extension of the reward system.

Backside-line: outdoors “substances” (DOA, meals, web porn, social media, and extra) acquire entry into our our bodies and use our reward system to meet their mission.

And it shortly turns into a reciprocating relationship. Our reward system finally ends up needing the substance, simply because the substance wants our reward system.

And because it so typically goes, the substance commandeers the reward system. And dependancy is on.

Enter from Dr. Amy Banks

In prep for this piece I stumbled on an important article on Psychology At this time’s web site by Dr. Amy Banks, co-author of 4 Methods to Click on: Rewire Your Mind for Stronger, Extra Rewarding Relationships. I’ll slip you a hyperlink to her piece on the finish.

Let’s add Dr. Banks’ enter to our dialogue…

Banks opens by observing that dopamine is trending as the most well-liked neurotransmitter. Why? It’s answerable for…

  • The craving many people expertise when smelling the morning espresso brewing
  • The elation we deeply really feel after we fall in love
  • The joys of a procuring spree
  • The will for that second or third glass of wine at dinner

Banks asks, “So what’s the hurt? It’s a pure, biologically primarily based chemical that gives vitality and motivation.”

Operant conditioning

She solutions the query by recalling B.F. Skinner’s operant conditioning work within the Nineteen Fifties. Scientists put electrodes into the limbic system (emotional heart) of rat’s brains and gave them a small zap when the rat entered a selected nook of a field.

Everybody thought if the shock was disagreeable sufficient it will trigger the rat to steer clear of the nook. Hmmm, however one thing sudden occurred. When the electrode was positioned within the nucleus accumbens (NA), as an alternative of avoiding the nook, the rats went again to get the shock again and again – as in 700 instances in an hour. They even selected a shock over meals.

Banks factors out the habits was one thing the rats completely “wanted” to do.

The takeaway, in keeping with Banks…

The rise in motivation and vitality that dopamine supplies is usually a good factor, however when your mind will get wired to compulsive behaviors that stimulate the dopamine reward pathway (addictions) then your life could be as uncontrolled because the poor rat in Skinner’s Field.

Banks believes dopamine and the reward system aren’t the issues. No, the issue is how we stimulate the dopamine pathway.

She summarizes…

This disconnection is a set-up for dependancy as we seek for different sources of dopamine. The ‘different sources’ look shockingly just like the checklist of frequent cultural complaints – overeating and weight problems, drug and alcohol abuse, consumerism, continual hooking up.

Not solely do these addictive, harmful behaviors get paired to the dopamine reward system however they create a suggestions loop of isolation that pushes folks in direction of extra addictions.

With out wholesome relationships we every grow to be just like the rats in Skinner’s Field – in search of dopamine from all of the incorrect locations. It’s time to rewire our brains for the wholesome relationships and connections that reward us with constructive vitality and motivation.

And there you might have it.

Run with it

Our reward system and dopamine: completely gorgeous design and work. However as unimaginable and life-sustaining as they’re, are you able to see the entice potential?

Understanding the anatomy and physiology of emotional and psychological challenges has all the time supplied me with therapeutic path. And that’s an enormous part of hope.

In case you’re combating impulsive behaviors, even with a temper or nervousness scenario, what you simply learn needed to have hit dwelling.

Now run with it.

Go forward and take a look at Dr. Banks’ article, The Dopamine Reward System: Friend or Foe?

Reward system picture: Authors: Oscar Arias-Carrión1, Maria Stamelou, Eric Murillo-Rodríguez, Manuel Menéndez-González and Ernst Pöppel. Licensed below the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.  No modifications made.

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