Science is king when it comes to addiction treatment. The more information we have, the better off patients and families are.
Addictionologist Dr. Fred Von Stieff has devoted his career to taking a deep dive into the science behind addiction. With over 20 years of experience as a medical director, he’s dedicated to educating not only medical professionals but patients as well.
He breaks down the function of dopamine and GABA neurotransmitters and six other major neurotransmitters in his book Brain in Balance.
The longstanding battle over what causes or facilitates addiction in humans began as far back as the 30s. Back in the day, experts thought addiction was evidence of a moral flaw or a lack of willpower.
Now, we understand that addiction is very closely linked to brain chemistry.
If you have an addiction or are close with someone who does, knowing the facts will help you find treatment and answers to tough questions.
Brain in Balance focuses on eight systems of neurotransmitters in the brain. The GABA neurotransmitters and dopamine neurotransmitters are crucial to studying how brain functioning relates to addiction development.
Here, we’ll talk about:
- How these neurotransmitters are linked to addiction.
- Who benefits from this information.
- How this knowledge impacts the treatment of addiction.
- What makes addiction treatment effective.
How are Dopamine and GABA linked to addiction?
Understanding what’s behind cravings helps to explain the impulsive tendencies behind someone coping with addiction. Of course, each person is unique due to their own experience and genetics.
However, there are specific patterns we can identify in individuals with an addiction. Studying the dopamine and GABA neurotransmitters helps us understand these patterns.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter with a role in several behavioral and mental health problems, including depression, ADHD, and various forms of addiction.
“Too much dopamine will cause one to hallucinate or become psychotic, but not enough can cause one to become depressed. There exists a fine balance between how much dopamine is necessary to feel good and how much will make a person delusional.” – Dr. Von Stieff.
The GABA neurotransmitter is commonly known as your brain’s “stop signal.” When GABA is activated, it seeks to calm and do any necessary damage control by halting certain brain signals.
We look at these two neurotransmitter systems when studying addiction because having the right balance of dopamine and GABA is absolutely essential to our behavioral health and mental well-being.
Who benefits from this knowledge?
- Family members hoping to learn more about a loved one with an addiction or mental health diagnosis.
- Patients seeking supplemental information to understand their situation better.
- Service providers or healthcare workers who want to bring more information to the table for patients.
- Educators looking to provide more information to students.
Brain in Balance was written with patients and doctors in mind. It is a must-have for anyone searching for a deeper definition of what’s behind human behavior.
If you find yourself thinking, “why am I always doing that,” or “I wish I could stop thinking this way,” then this book is precisely what your detective mind has been searching for.
You don’t need a degree to digest the information, and you can actually apply what you learn to your own life! You might even be able to teach your doctor a thing or two.
How does Brain in Balance change the way we view treatment?
If we understand how the brain functions before, during, and post addiction, we can intuitively optimize treatment. It’s also essential to understand how our brain reacts to detox when looking at improving treatment.
We know from Dr. Von Stieff that “what happens to the GABA neurotransmitter system during detoxification is often a strong determinant of the detoxification’s outcome.”
Here is a bit more from Brain in Balance on addiction treatment:
“People that have general anxiety disorder (GAD) likely have low levels of GABA, or they may have a lot of glutamate or noradrenaline; GABA balances out those more agitating neurotransmitters. Of all the neurotransmitter systems, this is the one I use the most in treatments. It is very predictable and quite rewarding to use. If medical professionals activate the right receptor sites and know which sites to leave alone, they have successful treatments.”
Makes sense, right?
Low GABA levels can help explain anxiety disorders. Anxiety is widespread in people who also have a substance abuse disorder. Often, they will try to shut out anxiety with a substance.
So, by understanding key factors that cause anxiety, we can develop treatments that help treat it. By effectively treating anxiety early on, we can hopefully prevent substance abuse in the future for some.
How can we make addiction treatment the most effective?
Learning to control cravings is challenging in any form of addiction.
However, it might be simpler than we realize.
Right now, many professionals will tell you that distracting yourself from cravings is one way to beat them. But what if we went further than that to understand how and why cravings occur in the first place?
Understanding how each neurotransmitter system works is key to successfully controlling cravings.
Dr. Von Stieff explains in Chapter 2:
“Cravings are the result of an imbalance of neurotransmitters. Therefore, the most logical way to prevent alcoholics and other drug-addicted people from having a relapse is to go straight to the root of the problem and treat the neurochemical imbalances.”
Ready to explore the world of neurotransmitters?
Dr. Von Stieff has received feedback from doctors and patients saying that his book helped them understand how addiction works in the brain.
It may seem challenging to learn about brain chemistry. But Brain in Balance makes understanding neurotransmitters easy. This information is absolutely beneficial for anyone looking to take the next step in learning.