The Science of Addiction

The brain is a complex organ that directs the actions of each individual. Several brain areas work together as the brain’s reward circuitry. The brain’s reward circuitry is thought to be the central regulator of substance use, addictive, and eating disorder behaviors. Neurotransmitters regulate both normal and symptomatic behaviors for these disorders. Increased levels of neurotransmitters such as endorphins, opioids, or dopamine activate the reward circuitry.

Many abused drugs have a similar chemical structure to neurotransmitters and can activate the brain’s reward circuitry. Substances with the highest potential for abuse include heroin, cannabis, narcotic pain medications, and cocaine. Dysregulation and imbalance of neurotransmitters in the reward circuitry is common to substance use, addictive, and eating disorders. Opioid antagonists can help regulate the neurotransmitter balance in the reward circuitry and control the behavioral symptoms of substance use, addictive, and eating disorders.

In substance use, addictive and eating disorders, opioids cause dopamine release in the reward circuitry

Brain Reward Circuitry

Opioids enhance dopamine release directly, and indirectly through GABA

NAc = Nucleus Accumbens; GABA = Aminobutyric Acid;
VTA = Ventral Tegmental Area; DA = Dopamine