Dopamine (DA), a neurotransmitter*, is involved with brain activity in drug abuse and other addictions. The activity of DA neurons in the brain is reduced in alcohol, opiate and cannabinoid-dependent rats. DA activity is depressed in an area of the brain called the nucleus accumbens in drug-dependent rodents. These deficiencies contribute to the ‘dopamine-impoverished brain’ theory of addiction. Interestingly, alcohol increases DA release in healthy subjects, while alcoholics have less DA release and reduced numbers of DA receptors.
Currently, it is believed that low DA function results in less interest of a person in non-drug-related stimuli. The current theory of therapy is that replacement of the reduced DA activity could produce less craving, relapse and drug use.
Reduced dopaminergic activity outlasts any physical signs of alcohol withdrawal. This suggests that reduced DA could play a role in alcohol dependence and may not play a part in the physical aspects of drug withdrawal. The low DA function persists over time and, eventually, returns to normal.
Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) may be useful in treating alcoholics and other addicts. In TMS an electromagnetic field is passed through the brain which alters the functioning of the brain tissue. TMS is FDA approved for major depression, bipolar disease and some symptoms of schizophrenia. Clinical trials are encouraging.
Pharmaceutical drugs used to treat addiction include bromocriptine, modafinil, aripiprazole, naltrexone, but results of these trials are variable.
CONCLUSION: Dopamine has been shown to be important in addiction. Current therapy includes TMS and DA increasing drugs. Unfortunately, the drugs have many side effects.
NOTE: Dopamine agonists, which increase dopamine activity in the brain, include phenylalanine, tyrosine, Boswellia serrata and Vitex agnus casti.
*Neurotransmitters are chemicals which are necessary for nerve cells to communicate with each other.
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NOTE: Dopamine agonists include phenylalanine, tyrosine and Vitex agnus casti.