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These brain cells represent a simplified way of looking at the BRAIN'S REWARD SYSTEM On the left we see the various drives and needs of the body; sex, hunger, thirst and friendship. When these drives are satisfied, or when pain is relieved, a signal is sent to certain brain cells (the monitor cell on the left) which manufacture a chemical substance that signals reward. When these monitor cells have been stimulated, a signal is sent to the tip where a small amount of this reward chemical is released. The chemical or neurotransmitter then reaches and stimulates the reward center, causing a feeling of well-being.
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Amphetamines produce an artificial feeling of pleasure. Most addictive drugs are able to produce pleasurable effects by chemically mimicking certain normal brain messenger chemicals which produce positive feelings in response to signals from the brain.
An example of this is the narcotic drug which mimics endorphin (nature's natural pain reliever). This is like having counterfeit money which will fit into the slot machine. When the drug comes in, its stimulates the reward center. This short circuits the survival mechanism, because the reward center cell can't tell the difference between the drug and the natural chemical messenger.
The result is a dependence on the immediate, fast, predictable drug which, at the same time, short circuits interests in and the motivation to make life's normal rewards work.
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When the amphetamine molecule comes in through the blood stream, it bypasses the natural nerve cells and causes the artificial release of normal, chemical messengers for positive feelings. What happens as a result of this is a feeling of satisfaction, well-being and relief. Then, automatically the system sends a signal of positive rewards back to the memory of this activity. The first of many pleasure hooks has been implanted into the memory.
The amphetamine drug lies to both the Reward Center and to the Monitor Cell. The cell adapts to the excess stimulating effect of amphetamine by shutting down production of the natural stimulatory chemistry, to try to keep a balance.
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Where Does the High Go?
The FIRST association with amphetamine has been locked in your subconscious memory. The subconscious learns through IMMEDIATE ASSOCIATION i.e. using amphetamine gives almost immediate pleasure. Your subconscious remembers that first initial "high" and actually forces you to want to recapture it.
Usually a person using amphetamine never gets as big a "high" as she or he did on the FIRST dose. This is a result of the drug's ability to suppress and deplete the brain's production of the normal chemical messenger on which the brain relies to generate positive feelings. The brain adapts to the presence of amphetamine by decreasing production of the normal chemical messenger. The user then begins to use more -- he has to work harder to get less and less pleasurable effect. Ultimately he crashes. As tolerance develops to the euphoric effects, higher and higher doses of amphetamine are needed to get pleasurable effects. Then, the more you use, the greater risk from toxic effects of amphetamine.
People who use amphetamines often lose weight because the drug turns off the drive to eat. The drug produces a feeling of satisfaction with regard to food, even though no food was eaten. Tolerance to this effect develops. When the person stops using the amphetamine, there is usually a rebound increase in appetite as the body discovers it has been literally feeding off itself and wasting tissue.
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Repetition Strengthens Memory
The memory works like a cassette recorder and stores all that the body experiences. At some time later, when "signaled," physical experiences stored in the memory can be played back. Repetition strengthens memory. Through repetition, the pleasant effects of amphetamine and the relief of painful withdrawal, become strongly programmed into the survival mechanism.
Why Does Crystal Methamphetamine Take Over Your Life?
Methamphetamine, like other addictive drugs, is able to short-circuit your survival system by artificially stimulating the reward center, or pleasure areas in your brain, WITHOUT ANYTHING BENEFICIAL HAPPENING TO YOUR BODY. As this happens, it leads to increased confidence in methamphetamine, and LESS confidence in the normal rewards of life. This first happens on a physical level. Then, it affects you psychologically. The big methamphetamine lie results in decreased interest in other aspects of life, as you increase your reliance and interest in methamphetamine. People, places and activities involved with using methamphetamine become MORE IMPORTANT. People, places and activities or lifestyles that worked through your normal reward system, before using methamphetamine, become LESS important to you. In fact, after awhile, a heavy methamphetamine user will actually RESENT people, places and activities not able to fit in with methamphetamine use.
In certain studies, animals would press levers to release methamphetamine into their blood stream, no longer concerned about eating, mating or other natural drives. They will, in fact, die of starvation in the process of giving themselves methamphetamine even though food is available.
Is There Methamphetamine Withdrawal?
Yes. The severity and length of the symptoms vary with the amount of damage done to your normal reward system through amphetamine use. The most common symptoms are: drug craving, irritability, loss of energy, depression, fearfulness, wanting to sleep a lot, or, difficulty in sleeping, shaking, nausea and palpitations, sweating, hyperventilation, and increased appetite. These symptoms can commonly last several weeks after you stop using amphetamine. With medical treatment, these symptoms can be handled and eliminated much more quickly.
So we see that as more of the drug comes into the body, more of the body's natural chemistry is suppressed. Eventually, natural reward messenger chemical production is almost shut down completely. If the drug is removed at this time, there will be a feeling of panic. This extreme state of irritability, tension and anxiety is what is called withdrawal.
During this time attempts at meeting normal survival needs don't register satisfaction in the brain's reward system because, the messenger for satisfaction has been suppressed by the drug. Instead, the central survival mechanism sends out a panic signal screaming that the body is in extreme distress.
The Basic Problem of Addiction
Amphetamine causes false feelings of well-being. More and more confidence is placed in the drug while other survival feelings are ignored and bypassed. The result is a lack of concern for, and confidence in, other areas of life.
It is at this point that physical dependence settles in. Notice that in the beginning, the pleasure impressions in the memory were quite small. But as the natural chemistry becomes more and more suppressed, the survival mechanism receives a greater and greater feeling of pleasure through the use of the drug. Furthermore as the drug starts to relieve the withdrawal, the addicted person feels, "I needed that." And so the subconscious memory is learning through the body that the drug is not only something that is pleasurable, but something that is needed just to make it through the day.
Reprinted from the Schick Shadel Hospital
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