Sex, Drugs and Sausage Rolls: Why we do what we do.
What do Ben Cousins, Lindsay Lohan and Salvador Dali have in common? All have come under the spell of one of the brains most ingenious yet cunning systems… the reward system.
The reward system of the brain has evolved to ensure that we as humans stay alive. Historically the reward system produced a feeling of satisfaction upon eating and drinking, a phenomenon which people still experience today as they eat their favourite food.
Indeed the reward system is charged with making us feel good about certain behaviours that are at the core of our existence.
As with food, sex is governed by the reward system, another adaptive behaviour which ensures that humans remain evolutionarily fit.
Indeed, if eating or sex were not part of the reward system we would hardly be motivated to partake in either activity, leading to the endangerment of the species.
The brain is wired to release dopamine in response to rewarding stimuli. Dopamine is a chemical which, when released in the brain, effects the activity of neurons (the most important cells of the nervous system) such that the recipient feels rewarded.
The same mechanism that ensures the human race stays alive is, paradoxically, strongly linked to an activity which threatens to kill so many people in the developed world, drug addiction.
Taking illicit drugs such as amphetamines and cocaine causes the release of the reward chemical dopamine from an area of the brain called the ventral tegmental area.
The elevation of dopamine levels in the brain cause the common state of euphoria associated with many illicit drugs. While taking the drug once will give a short lasting effect, chronic use of illicit drugs can lead to addiction.
Addiction is the brain feeling as though it is starved of dopamine. By continually taking drugs the brain gets used to constantly having high levels of dopamine. When an addict stops taking the drugs their dopamine levels return to what is usually considered normal.
However, to the brain of a drug addict normal levels seem low, leading to feelings of depression as well as longing for the next hit of drugs to boost dopamine levels.
In short the brain is re-trained to feel as though it can only be happy if it has elevated levels of dopamine and as such decides that it must have drugs to elevate levels of the chemical.
The cycle can be very hard to break out of and as such addicts most commonly need strict rehabilitation programs to overcome their habit.
Without sufficient rehab drugs will cause poisoning of the blood and liver as well as other physiological consequences, ultimately leading to illness and possibly death.
While most humans have many reasons to thank their natural reward system, people such as: Ben Cousins, Lindsay Lohan and Salvador Dali, who all suffered from drug addiction, may have been better off without it .