Honor the power of your voice and begin your journey with us today!
Honor the power of your voice and begin your journey with us today!

Losing Your Balance: How Addiction Affects Dopamine in Your Brain

Why We Didn’t Understand the Dopamine-Addiction Connection Before?

Most addiction neuropsychiatry researchers are likely to be awkward if not inadequate substitute elementary school teachers and elementary school teachers are likely to be awkward if not inadequate addiction neuropsychiatry research temps. Each of these two disciplines collectively conceptualizes the dopamine-addiction connection in a similar descriptive manner as two blind people holding a different part of an elephant. Each conceptualizes the relationship between dopamine and addiction in an occupationally specific fashion. Each does not fully understand the overall picture of the relationship between dopamine and repetitive self-defeating behavior.
Researchers publish and teach their findings. Their audiences often walk away with only a fraction of the research team’s or lead author’s collective knowledge. Similarly, the elementary school teacher is charged with teaching a simplified translation of current dopamine-addiction research connection in an even more simple and understandable way.
Keeping with our analogy, both researchers and elementary school teachers only understand a portion of the dopamine-addiction elephant while their students and audiences walk away with even less.
Similarly, the dissemination of dopamine-addiction related information in towns, cities, states and countries often yields inadequate translations of scientific data to make a difference in educating the masses regarding the prevention and treatment of addictions.

The Dopamine-Addiction Tower of Babel

Addictions researchers often lack the teaching style to translate their highly technical findings into simple terms and elementary school teachers are teaching a simplified version of an already simplified version. Similarly, trade book publishers, journalists and the public do not walk away with a better understanding of what is broken in addictions or how to repair self-defeating lifestyles.
In this way addictions researchers, middle school teachers and others essentially speak different languages. The lack of simplifying complex and complicated dopamine-addiction data down to a kindergarten may be the main fuel propelling the opioid and substance abuse epidemic globally.


The opioid and substance abuse epidemic will not go away until 5-year-olds understand why dopamine is at the heart and soul of all addictions. The kindergarten dopamine-addiction lesson plan we are about to unwrap is an attempt to give substance abusers and their significant others of all ages, a clinically useful addictions prevention repair manual.

Let’s Begin

Have no fear. It’s neither complex nor complicated. It’s simple to see how dopamine affects addiction and addiction affects dopamine after we hear guidance from blind Master Po (Master Po):
“Be yourself and never fear thus to be naked to the eyes of others. Yet know that (people) so often mask themselves that what is simple is rarely understood. The dust of truth swirls and seeks its own cracks of entry and a tree falling in the forest without ears to hear makes no sound. Yet it falls.”
Here is How Dopamine Feels

  1. Dopamine = Happy
  2. Dopamine Half-Gone = Feel Ok
  3. Dopamine Gone = Sad

What is Dopamine?

Dopamine is happy jet fuel for the brain’s pleasure center which is primarily made up of the ventral tegmental area (VTA) and nucleus accumbens.

What Does Dopamine Feel Like During the First Year of Life?

  1. Noah newborn has low dopamine levels (sad) after performing a substantially uncomfortable reenactment of toothpaste being squeezed from a toothpaste tube. If you have ever heard vaginal childbirth it is often characterized by the mother passing her screams to her child.
  2. Noah is ok to happy once cleaned up, wrapped in a soft blanket and in his mom’s arms.
  3. Noah hungers (dopamine withdrawal = sad) soon after being disconnected from his mom’s supply of dopamine increasing carbohydrates, proteins and fats.
  4. Noah is in dopamine heaven (happy) as soon as he drinks more dopamine enhancing milk. (Cocores et al discovered that taste buds are actually dopamine injection sites leading directly into the pleasure center. Indeed, delicious is what dopamine feels like! Taste is a misnomer because food feels good. Look at faces walking into a restaurant. Look at the same faces leaving. They usually enter ok to unhappy and leave happy. Take notice of changes in behavior before and after family meals. See how you’re planning what you are going to eat at work hours before you drive to the restaurant.)
  5. That’s why when Noah is so stoned on milk/dopamine that he can’t suck any more he has totally nodded-out (happy).
  6. When he wakes up with a load or hungry (sad) we hear about it and his dope sickness or food withdrawal will not stop until dopamine enhancing nutrients are promptly delivered.
  7. Instant ecstasy (happy) occurs as Noah’s eyelids glide down like many syringe-plungers delivering nirvana (happy) directly into his “taste” buds/pleasure center.
  8. Diaper rash does not increase dopamine (sad).
  9. Maximum strength diaper rash (discomfort or pain) cream does increase dopamine (ok to happy).
  10. First birthday gifts often increase dopamine (happy).
  11. Noah’s older sibling playing with his first gifts does not increase dopamine (sad).
  12. Noah’s dopamine level is not increased by very loud noises (sad).
  13. Noah’s laughter is associated with increased dopamine (happy).
  14. Noah’s smile is associated with increased dopamine (happy).
  15. Noah’s tears are not associated with increased dopamine (sad).

Before Puberty

Let’s see how dopamine feels from the introduction of oxidized food such as browned or Maillard (Zhang et al) coated, flour or starch containing, sugar containing, carrageenan or gum containing and/or salty food up until puberty:

  1. Cheeseburger (happy X 5)
  2. Fries, Tater Tots & Hash Browns (happy X 5)
  3. Fried Chicken or Fish (happy X 5)
  4. Chocolate Chip Cookie & Oreos & Their Relatives (happy X 5)
  5. Macaroni & Cheese (happy X 5)
  6. Steak (happy X 5)
  7. Pizza (both types) (happy X 5)
  8. Coffee (happy X 5)
  9. Soda (happy X 5)
  10. Potato Chips, Cheese Chips & Its Relatives (happy X 5)
  11. Doughnut, Cupcake & Their Relatives (happy X 5)
  12. Breakfast Sandwich & Its Relatives (happy X 5)
  13. Grilled Cheese (happy X 5)
  14. Baked or Mashed Potatoes (happy X 5)
  15. Pancakes (happy X 5)
  16. Chicken Pot Pie (happy X 5)
  17. Apple, Pecan, Pumpkin & Key Lime Pie & Their Relatives(happy X 5)
  18. Chicken Wings (happy X 5)
  19. Nachos (happy X 5)
  20. Hotdog (happy X 5)
  21. Chocolate Bar & Peanut Butter Cups & Their Relatives (happy X 5)
  22. S’mores (happy X 5)
  23. Cornbread (happy X 5)
  24. Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwich (happy X 5)
  25. Peanut Butter on a Spoon (happy X 5)
  26. Philly Cheesesteak (happy X 5)
  27. BLT (happy X 5)
  28. Corn Dog (happy X 5)
  29. Ice Cream &Banana Split & Their Relatives (happy X 5)
  30. Pot Roast (happy X 5)
  31. Barbeque (happy X 5)
  32. Thanksgiving Turkey (happy X 5)
  33. Short Ribs (happy X 5)
  34. Pulled Pork Sandwich (happy X 4)
  35. Po’ Boy Sandwich (happy X 4)
  36. Jerky (happy X 4)
  37. Chicken Fried Steak (happy X 4)
  38. Bread, Bagel & Pretzel & Their Relatives (happy X 4)
  39. Lucky Charms, Total & Cheerios & Their Relatives (happy X 4)
  40. Tea (happy X 3)
  41. Popcorn (happy X 3)
  42. Egg Rolls (happy X 3)
  43. Texas Toast (happy X 3)
  44. Twinkies (happy X 2)
  45. Biscuits & Gravy (happy X 2)
  46. Ruben Sandwich (happy X 2)
  47. Clam Chowder (happy X 2)
  48. Smoked Salmon (happy X 2)
  49. Fortune Cookies (happy X 2)
  50. Pastrami Sandwich (happy X 2)
  51. California Roll (happy X 2)
  52. Gritts (happy X 2)
  53. Baked Beans (happy X 2)

What is with the “X” Factor?

The higher the happy bump (hedonic dopaminergic response) the quicker the dopaminergic or happy serge, and the deeper and earlier the incoming dopamine-withdrawal-tide of hunger and unhappiness.
Do Some Children Use Oxidized Foods and Beverages to Fight Boredom, Sadness or Make a Good Time Better?
Certain predisposed children become conditioned to associate addictive oxidized foods with feeling better under a variety of boring, celebratory or uncomfortable/painful circumstances including:

  • Home alone with nothing to do
  • Feeling misunderstood
  • Feeling rejected
  • Feeling bullied
  • Being betrayed
  • Being grounded
  • Being in time out
  • Being caught in a lie
  • Poor grades
  • Not being allowed to stay up late
  • Not being allowed to sleep over at a friends
  • Celebrating graduation
  • Watching a movie
  • Going to a family gathering
  • Birthday parties
  • Holiday parties
  • Halloween
  • School parties

Can We Teach Young Unhealthy Eaters to Self-Medicate Life’s Dopamine Deficiencies Differently?

One of the goals of our drug and alcohol recovery programs is to gradually increase and eventually replace dopamine enhancing drug and alcohol use behaviors with dopamine enhancing behaviors such as laughter and imagining that very special person, pet or place.
Epidemiologists are beginning realize that the origins of obesity, cardiovascular disease, cancer, stroke or atrial fibrillation, type 2 diabetes, neurodegenerative diseases, mood disorders, and even trauma (think attention deficit and cognitive slowing or racing) are symptoms of oxidized food addiction.
Children showing signs of fighting boredom or unhappiness, or making a happy time happier mainly by using oxidized food can practice the following dopamine enhancing behaviors paralleling methods used in our drug and alcohol treatment centers:

  1. Get adequate sleep and eat more green alkaline fiber foods to reduce daytime attention deficit and brain fog, both of which are dopamine deficiencies.
  2. Going to sleep earlier and adding green alkaline sides can set the stage for optimal focus at a relaxed pace and with a calmer body. This means better time management and more accomplishment with greater dopaminergic reward.
  3. Start with the more difficult homework tasks.
  4. Acceptance can increase dopamine.
  5. Being kind to others can increase dopamine.
  6. Board games can increase dopamine.
  7. Music can increase dopamine.
  8. Thinking of things to be grateful for can increases dopamine.
  9. Thinking of things to be thankful for can increases dopamine.
  10. Thinking of your favorite people, places and things can increases dopamine.
  11. Certain hobbies can increase dopamine.
  12. Meditation can increase dopamine.
  13. Yoga can increase dopamine.
  14. Taking a walk can increase dopamine.
  15. Smiling just for the sake of it increases dopamine.
  16. Being kind to yourself increases dopamine.
  17. And there are countless other wholesome non-addictive ways to keep dopamine levels elevated and be happy.

Then Comes the Unhappy Hormonal Storms & Novelties of Puberty
Some potentially dopamine/mood altering novelties include:

  • Orgasm (happy X 6)
  • Attraction to non-family friends in a non-Platonic way
  • Amplified uncomfortable feelings
  • Experimenting with tobacco: chew, cigarettes & cigars
  • Experimenting with vaping
  • Experimenting with CBG and THC
  • Experimenting with volatiles or inhalants
  • Experimenting with alcohol

How Addiction Affects Dopamine in the Already Addicted Brain

  • Carfentanil (happy X 10 to Sad X 10)
  • Fentanyl (happy X 10 to Sad X 10)
  • Heroin (happy X 9 to Sad X 9)
  • Oxycodone (happy X 9 to Sad X 9)
  • Cocaine (happy X 9 to Sad X 9 rapidly)
  • Methamphetamine (happy X 9 to Sad X 9)
  • Hydrocodone (happy X 8 to Sad X 8)
  • Hard Alcohol (happy X 7 to Sad X 7)
  • Beer & Wine (happy X 6 to Sad X 6)
  • Marijuana (happy X 6 to Sad X 6)
  • Compulsive Gambling & Its Relatives (happy X 6 to Sad X 6)

How to Spot Loss of Balance?

People find themselves spending more than twenty-three hours a day in misery in order to catch less than a collective hour of quasi happiness by the time active addiction has taken charge, if they are lucky. Don’t be fooled. They often wear a smile and tell how well everything is going.

Reach Out

If you or someone you know is struggling with an addiction, please reach out to our addiction specialists for guidance and support, at (877)-RECOVERY or (877)-732-6837. Our addiction specialists make themselves available to take your call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Because We Care.
Cocores JA, Gold MS: The Salted Food Addiction Hypothesis may explain overeating and the obesity epidemic. Med Hypotheses. 2009 Dec;73(6):892-9. doi: 10.1016/j.mehy.2009.06.049. Epub 2009 Jul 29.
Master Po, The Soul is the Warrior, Episode 5, Pilot & First Season, Kung Fu (TV Series), Warner Brothers, et al.
Zhang Q1, Ames JM, Smith RD, Baynes JW, Metz TO. A perspective on the Maillard reaction and the analysis of protein glycation by mass spectrometry: probing the pathogenesis of chronic disease. J Proteome Res. 2009 Feb;8(2):754-69. doi: 10.1021/pr800858h

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