How your child’s substance use affects their natural dopamine levels and what happens when they try to stop using substances

As you read this, keep in mind this is JUST ONE FACTOR, one chemical, that is affected when dealing with substance use.

Dopamine is the brain’s way of rewarding us or nature’s way of rewarding the brain for activities like eating and sex that are necessary to the survival of our species. 

Dopamine makes us feel really good so of course we want more of it. 

We get dopamine hits from more than survival activities though. 

Artificial concentrated substances like sugar, drugs, and alcohol release a gush of dopamine that messes up our brains pleasure/reward system. 

Our brains build up a tolerance to dopamine so we need more and more just to feel “OK”. 

As tolerance increases and artificial substances continue to be used, the brain decreases its own dopamine production. 

It also desensitizes itself by reducing the number of dopamine receptors. 

The brain is trying to keep dopamine in balance. 

You can see the vicious cycle this creates because now you need more of the substance to create the good feeling. 

The dopamine system can recover once it stops being flooded because of the consumption of concentrated substances, but it takes time. 

During that time the physiological process of craving the concentrated substance that gives a dopamine hit can influence your teen to use a substance even though they are experiencing negative consequences and have a strong desire to change. 

The next time you find yourself asking why your teen is abusing substances, remember that this is just one small part of many complex factors.