21 Feb Dopamine receptors in addiction recovery
If you are giving up nicotine, or cannabis, or benzos or any other drug, it is completely understandable that you feel incredibly IRRITABLE and impatient. The way these drugs work is to cause the release of a whole rush of dopamine in our brains. That is why taking those substances feels so good. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that controls our brain’s reward and pleasure centres.
Interestingly, people who have low dopamine levels are more likely to develop addictions. Presumably to supply more of the dopamine that is lacking in their brains.
Starving dopamine receptors
When you quit nicotine or cannabis or any other drug, your brain is left with a whole suite of dopamine receptors that are used to getting a steady stream, or intermittent (but flooding) doses of dopamine. When you quit, these receptors are left in your brain, and they are not getting their usual doses of dopamine. Your brain does release small amounts of dopamine. It does so during the activities that are necessary for your survival such as eating or sex, or other pleasurable activities, think – chocolate or intellectual stimulation.
If you have a whole heap of receptors that are used to getting their hit of dopamine, and they are not getting it any more, they are going to start to sound the alarm. They are going to send messages to your brain that you are dying, and that you are in serious trouble.
Irritable, impatient, grumpy, strung out and angry
Those are the withdrawal symptoms that addicts go through when they are quitting any kind of addictive substance. People in withdrawal can be irritable, impatient, stressed out, strung out, and generally not in good shape.
Their brains are doing everything in their power to get the normal level of dopamine, because as a survival neurotransmitter, our brains actually do think that we are doing something that will compromise our survival.
So our brains are screaming at us to supply the drug or the substance that will cause the dopamine release and make us feel better.
I know that you feel irritable and angry and over it, and impatient. Punch a pillow, scream into the wind, write an angry blog post, tear up pieces of paper. Scream and shout, cry or spit. Just don’t smoke or don’t take the substance that caused this problem in the first place. It WILL pass. If you can get through the day, some healing happened and you are in a better position.
The icky threes – addiction time line
The good news is that eventually your brain starts to come to terms with this reduction in dopamine and the dopamine receptors die off. But not without a fight. There are some danger periods in any recovery from addiction timeline. Three days, three weeks and three months (approximately). Those periods are thought to be dangerous, because the dopamine receptors in our brains are dying off at those times. So they will send out distress signals to our brains to feed them dopamine. If you can get through these periods without supplying the drug or the substance of choice, you will feel much better.
Just get through the day. However you can. The most important thing in the world is to get through this. The world will wait for you. This is your biggest priority right now. You can do this.