Comparing Dopamine Release in Addiction and Mental Disorders

Comparing Dopamine Release in Addiction and Mental Disorders

There is a high rate of co-morbidity among patients with mental disorders and substance addictions. As treatment centers more on the health of the whole patient, rather than simply targeting symptoms for improvement, it is helpful to understand the overlap between mental disorders and substance abuse.

As knowledge is gained, more comprehensive treatment strategies can be implemented. Treatment that focuses on pharmacological remedies, as well as therapy-based programs benefit from understanding the specific brain functions involved with mental health issues.

Recently, researchers sought to better understand the release of hormones in the brain related to reward. The release of dopamine, which is central to the reward experience, also has a major role in how individuals learn new behaviors. It is understood to have a major role in the development of drug addictions.

In patients with schizophrenia, there is an increased release of dopamine in a specific region of the brain’s striatum. In cases of drug addiction, dopamine release is decreased in a nearby striatal region. Because schizophrenia is so often accompanied by substance addiction, researchers funded by NIDA sought to test the effects of an amphetamine-induced dopamine release in a group of patients who had both schizophrenia and were substance dependent.

The participants who experienced a reduction in dopamine release due to the introduction of amphetamine showed enhanced positive symptoms, such as psychotic episodes. The finding may provide evidence for the suffering of a combined dysfunction in co-morbid patients.

The patients may experience an increased level of dopamine sensitivity that results in psychotic symptoms. In addition, they may have a reduced level of sensitivity to dopamine in the area of the brain that regulates the experience of rewards.

The researchers believe that the findings show support for what sometimes results in a cycle of drug use to self-medicate, which can lead to or increase the severity of psychosis.

Patients who struggle with schizophrenia and drug addiction have increased challenges when being treated for either condition. Those who enter treatment for drug addiction may have difficulty obtaining treatment that can address both major problems.

In addition, the stigma attached to schizophrenia and that attached to drug addiction can make it difficult for patients with co-morbid schizophrenia and addiction to maintain a strong support system of family and friends. This can make recovery especially challenging.

The study’s findings provide new information that may lead to improved treatment strategies for those who encounter co-morbid schizophrenia and substance addiction. The research is significant for the treatment of the co-morbid conditions, because failing to address both areas of health can cause major impairment in recovery. The research may provide a springboard for developing new treatment tools.

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