Neurotransmitters are chemicals in the brain which act as a messenger system between areas of the brain. Dopamine and serotonin are commonly named neurotransmitters, especially when discussing the neuroscience model of addiction. Pleasure is considered a key component in the process of addiction in the brain. Associating drugs and alcohol with pleasure, the brain becomes addicted to anything which stimulates the production of pleasurable feelings. Pleasurable feelings are caused by the production of dopamine. For many years, dopamine has been considered the primary neurotransmitter involved in addiction. The original model for neuroscience in addiction highlighted the production of dopamine. Using rats and mice, these experiments offered cocaine as an exemplary addictive drug.

New research has found that in cocaine addiction specifically, dopamine is not the only neurotransmitter which might contribute to the overall brain process of addiction. Hypocretin is a neurotransmitter located in the central amygdala, according to Medical Daily. The neurotransmitter is part of the “neuropeptidergic hypocretin system” which is “implicated in the compulsive-like cocaine-seeking through activation of the central amygdala, a part of the brain that is involved in stress and anxiety, and also plays a major role in sustaining cocaine addiction.”

Researchers made the discovery by working with two groups of rats each with access to cocaine. One group had unlimited access for just one hour a day while the other group could use self-administration for up to six hours. Cocaine is typically offered mixed with water through a small feeding bottle. The water can either be accessed freely or require rats to step on a small point which releases the water. “In the second group,” the article explains, “compulsive drug use led to increased levels of hypocretin, motivating a need for more cocaine.”

Hypocretin is part of a complex system in the brain associated with the hypothalamus. The system “sends signals between brain regions and has been shown to influence the brain’s reactions to cocaine, nicotine, alcohol, and opioids, and the desire to relapse.” When compulsive cocaine use creates a rise in levels of hypocretin, the amygdala is overstimulated. As the experiment with the rats proved to researchers, “this overactivity led rats to exhibit an anxiety-like state that appeared to trigger a cocaine craving.”

Addiction is a complex issue which lives in the brain, yet affects body, and spirit as well. In order to effectively create new ways of living, each area must be thoroughly treated and recovered. Cypress Lake Recovery provides an integrative approach to treatment, bringing together holistic and therapeutic modalities. For information on our programs and services, call 1-866-217-2636.