The brain is amazing. Truly amazing.
At homeostasis, the brain both produces and receives neurochemicals such as dopamine, oxytocin, and adrenaline. Rather than having sustained levels of these neurochemicals, a rise or fall in each neurochemical production alerts the brain to changes in the individual environment.
For example, high levels of adrenaline are associated with increased levels of energy due in response to a fight or flight stimuli. Increased levels of dopamine create a sense of reward or pleasure that comes from experiencing something enjoyable.
The brain works hard to maintain an environment of homeostasis and optimal functioning - always reverting to nominal levels of each neurochemical. Drugs release extremely elevated levels of dopamine in the brain; methamphetamine is associated with up to 1200X the naturally produced amount of dopamine. In the moment, this is what the high is all about, but the brain tries to adapt.
During periods of extended drug use, the brain significantly decreases the amount of dopamine it naturally produces. Since the substance is producing elevated levels of dopamine, the brain no longer needs to continue production.
Additionally, up to 60% of the D2 dopamine receptors in the brain will be inactivated. If the brain were to receive the continuous supply of dopamine in such high levels, the central nervous system would be overloaded and sustain damage. Again, the brain is amazing and protects itself.
During drug use, these functions are helpful but create a recipe for disaster in early recovery. It has been demonstrated that the brain isn't equipped to produce nominal levels of dopamine in early recovery, but recent research is uncovering the reason behind a majority of relapses.
The D2 dopamine receptors that are responsible for taking in the dopamine and relaying pleasure to the brain remain inactive for up to 18 months post- drug termination. This means that even during times of intense pleasure or joy, the individual in early recovery is biologically unable to experience that joy or pleasure.
Can you imagine - a life without pleasure?
Relapsing to experience pleasure - to feel anything at all - is the most commonly cited reason for turning back to drugs. Traditional therapies for substance use are very effective in the long run to help the individual understand and overcome their disorder, but fail to adequately address these biological hurdles that come from extended substance use.
There have been a handful of preclinical studies showing that physical activity reanimates these inactive D2 dopamine receptors – effectively allowing the individual to experience positive mood states in early recovery.
While furthering our understanding of the connection between physical activity and relapse rates through research, Outsiders Anonymous is providing a practical application of these findings along with other evidence-based practices such as group support, social community, and identity management.
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