That Pleasure Center: How Addictions Change The Brain

Thanks to science, it is now outdated to view addiction in all its forms as a moral scourge. Before, addicts are cast out for their supposed lack of willpower in conquering drug dependence. Neuroscience forwards and persistently substantiates the biomedical view of addiction as a result of a cognitive dysfunction, rendering moot any values-based judgment of it.

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The biomedical view pits addiction as a chronic disease with a physiological explanation, altering the brain and its functions. Furthermore, it is triggered by a natural response of the brain to pleasurable stimuli. The so-called “pleasure center,” the nucleus accumbens, is infused with dopamine when a pleasurable experience registers in the brain. Thus, addiction can take on many forms and is not exclusive to drugs and alcohol. The most benign, everyday activities, such as sex, and even sports, can escalate into full-blown addiction as long as the brain registers pleasure from these and triggers the release of the happiness hormone, dopamine.

Neurosurgeons and neuroengineers then direct their addiction recovery research toward methods that target this “pleasure center.” In China, for instance, a still-risky but roguish procedure called “stereotactic ablation” seeks to obliterate parts of the nucleus accumbens. While well-intentioned, the procedure presents both biomedical and ethical issues. One is that it affects or inhibits other emotional and physiological responses stemming from the pleasure center, such as sexual desire, motivation, and in extreme cases, even happiness. This innovation presents a fundamental problem in neurosurgery: the inherent sensitivity and susceptibility to damage of brain tissue.

Other neuroengineering techniques treating addictions are more holistic and bio-social in their approach. Modern imaging methods allow a comprehensive examination of the brain’s many aspects, including cognitive abilities and brain processing speed and regulation. Data from such are then compiled with personality and lifestyle factors in the development of appropriate treatment programs for addiction.

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Dr. Curtis Cripe developed an integrated cognitive rehabilitation/development/neurotherapy training program targeted at brain recovery and brain development for children, adolescents and adults with brain dysfunctions. For more on neuroscience and methods of cognitive neurorepair, visit this website.


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