Brain reward systems

This is a challenge. Trying to describe the brain reward systems. I have always been  fascinated by the brain function. It started with an extra course in neurobiology in Uppsala.

There is little teaching about the brain reward systems when it comes to today’s drug policy in society and politics. Hence, this an attemt to description.

First, I would humbly like to point out that this topic is very complex, and that there is currently a strong understanding of brain function, but, however, a lot of knowledge is still missing. The big challenge is to realize that brains are different, and thus, it can be difficult to understand how different people think, feel and so on. Furthermore, understanding brain function will increase eg why and how different people act in the micro- and macro world.

Professor Jörgen Engel was my supervisor in neurobiological research, and he has dedicated his life to study how alcohol affects the brain reward systems. Both acute and also longterm effects. Since ethanol is such a small molecule with both hydrophilic and lipophilic properties, it can affect the brain in so many ways with following complex pharmacology.

Brain reward systems (pluralis!) are extremely important for a species survival. They help to stimulate/reinforce different behaviors such as a feeling of pleasure when eating, drinking, reproduction etc. Thus, fundamental behaviors that are important for survival. So-called positive reinforcement.

What is then brain reward systems? From what I know today, they consist primarily of dopamine neurons that are located in distinct pathways in the brain. It has been noticed in repeated studies that addictive substances have in common to increase the amount of dopamine at the same time with a sense of pleasure. There are of course many other neurotransmitter systems involved in reward.

Addictive drugs (part of a plant) such as amphetamine, cocaine, alcohol and nicotine etc stimulate brain reward systems. If they are aused over a broader time period addiction can occur. In addiction, there are no positive effect of the drug, but rather, the drug is taken to remove the negative effects. For example tolerance and withdrawal symptoms occur. Tolerance is when a higher dose of the drug is used to achive the same effect as in the beginning.

Today, doctors are assisted with a diagnostic system (DSM) which helps them to determine if there is abuse or addiction . There are good pharmaceutical drugs to be used in alliviation and in different assisting programs. It is important to remember that social support in addiction is very important in assisting programs. Unfortunately, more research is needed to develop more effective drugs.

It has also been shown that anabolic steroids, during prolonged use, affects the brain in a very negative and complex way.  Anabolic steroids, are in my opinion, very dangerous. They can influence behavior so that eg aggressiveness  is displayed. The addict may also experience being the world’s best .

An important aspect is that drugs can affect fetal development so that abnormalities can occur. Drugs should definetly be avoided during pregnancies.

I promised to write prevously on this very important subject. This is written in a simle way, but I hope it increases, at least a little, the understanding of brain reward systems.




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