In the embedded YouTube video, Dr. Gabor Mate makes the assertion that one shouldn’t ask “why the addiction”, but instead ask “why the pain.”
Love, mother/child bonding, sex, vigorous exercise, spicy food, caffeine, nicotine, opiates and ethanol – all signal the chemical machine in our brain to produce dopamine, temporarily elevating the natural dopamine levels in our brain. Some, like nicotine, produce almost an instant and massive surge of dopamine, albeit short-lived. Whether it be through healthy or unhealthy methods, the opioid receptors in our brain and spinal column enjoy the higher levels of dopamine. “The increased dopamine sends a pleasure signal over and over. This feeling — and the craving to repeat it — help create addiction.” (Court JA; et al. Dopamine and nicotinic receptor binding and the levels of dopamine and homovanillic acid in human brain related to tobacco use. MRC Neurochemical Pathology Unit, UK. Neuroscience 1998 Nov; 87(1): 63-78.).
So why are some people prone to addiction while others are not? That is still unclear in the scientific community. However, there are strong indicators that have been researched and give varying degrees of plausibility.
As a boy, I lived in a constant hyper-vigilant state, never knowing when or where it might come from. I always had to be ready to move quickly. The hormone Adrenalin, on the ready to take flight. And the hormone cortisol, geared up to keep me moving. I believe that the elevated and sustained levels of cortisol in my system during those crucial brain development years (one to five) did its damage on the neuron endings (synapses) in my brain. The research that I’ve done supports my claim. Also see my post “How did this happen to me” for further explanation.
“Early childhood is a critical period in a child’s life that includes ages from birth to five years old. Although stress is a factor for the average human being, it can be a molding aspect in a young child’s life. Characteristics of stress include the outcomes that arise when people cannot manage internal or external difficulties. Internal stressors include physiological conditions such as hunger, pain, illness or fatigue. Other internal sources of stress consist of shyness in a child, emotions, gender, age and intellectual capacity. External stressors include separation from family, exposure to family conflict, abuse, divorce, a new home or school, illness and hospitalization, death of a loved one, poverty, natural disasters, and adults’ negative discipline techniques. Additional external stressors include prenatal drug exposure, such as maternal methamphetamine use, other maternal and paternal substance abuse, and maternal depression. A few stressors can be manageable for young children, but the effect of multiple stressors can be cumulative and significant. When stress builds up in early childhood, neurobiological factors are affected. In turn, hormone cortisol levels are uncontrollable and cannot be brought back to normal ranges.”
In this short 17 minute video, Dr. Gabor Mate speaks without mixing words about the association of Dopamine and addiction. This is a fascinating presentation by Dr. Mate.
(3. Poulsen, Marie K. “The Biological Context of Early Childhood Mental Health.” Preventive Medicine 583 Lecture. University of Southern California, Los Angeles. 8 Sept. 2011. Lecture.
4. Davies, Douglas. “Chapter 3: Risk and Protective Factors: The Child, The Family, and Community Contexts.” Child Development, A Practitioner’s Guide. 2nd ed. New York: Guilford Press. Print.
5. Middlebrooks JS, Audage NC. The Effects of Childhood Stress on Health Across the Lifespan. Atlanta (GA): Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control; 2008.
6. National Scientific Council on the Developing Child (2005). Excessive Stress Disrupts the Architecture of the Developing Brain: Working Paper No. 3. Retrieved from http://www.developingchild.harvard.edu)