One of the reasons that addiction treatment involving substitution therapy is so effective is because of the big role dopamine plays in the functioning of our brain. This chemical is directly responsible for feelings of happiness and well being that we experience in our lives, whether it be from eating good food, spending time with people we like, or hearing a favorite song on the radio.
Dopamine not only feels good, it is also essential for our survival. The chemical keeps us motivated and engaged with life itself. Scientists have even gone so far as to say that dopamine is as essential to life as food, air, and water. This has led addiction experts to take a closer look at substitution therapies such as methadone and buprenorphine. But in order to better understand how these therapies work, it’s important to know exactly what role dopamine plays in our brain.
The average brain produces 50 nanograms on a regular day and 100 nanograms on a day that is especially enjoyable. The use of drugs or other substances will cause dopamine levels to surge dramatically. For example, using tobacco will raise dopamine levels to 450 nanograms, marijuana to 650, heroin to 975, and methamphetamines to 10 times the amount of normal dopamine levels, or 1,100 nanograms.
As an individual’s substance abuse progresses over a longer period of time, their brain begins producing less dopamine and their craving grows stronger. An addict’s craving for a particular substance begins to take on monumental proportions, oftentimes reaching the point where it overtakes their cravings for food and water.
Understanding how dopamine levels react in relation to substance abuse has helped addiction researchers create more effective treatment strategies and understand how substitution therapy can work.
The Role Dopamine and Substitution Therapy Play in Substance Abuse Recovery
For patients who are on some type of substitution therapy, dopamine levels can be raised and kept at normal levels of 40 to 60 nanograms. Many addiction specialists now believe that restoring normal dopamine levels with these substitutes can be a valuable aid in recovery. Therapy and other treatment methods do create significant change, but without addressing the dopamine deficiency present in the brains of most addicts, the benefits of treatment methods won’t stick. One big reason for this is due to the loss of long term memory experienced by many patients with low levels of dopamine.
They may hear and understand the aspects of their treatment, but the chemistry of their brains won’t allow them to retain that valuable information. The hippocampus plays a direct role in long term memory and retaining information. Patients with low levels of dopamine are unable to keep important information about changing their behavior stored in the hippocampus.
How Medication Can Play a Positive Role in Recovery
Studies have shown that there are several factors that contribute to a successful recovery. These include support from family and friends, continued engagement and participation with the recovery community, mandatory drug testing, and even income levels. Along with an abstinence based treatment plan, having these factors present creates an 85 to 95% rate of success.
Unfortunately, not all patients who enter recovery have access to these positive factors. In these cases, medication can play an important role in increasing the chances of success. It’s important for treatment providers to take a look at the big picture when it comes to patients and develop treatment plans that are tailored to their unique situations. Substitution therapy can make a big difference for those who enter treatment at a disadvantage, as well as being a valuable tool for anyone struggling with addiction.