As a therapist working with addicted clients, many with Utah DUI charges, I am often asked about why people become addicted in the first place. The answer is somewhat intricate but understandable.
Every person’s brain and nervous system runs with the help of neurons, or nerve cells. Throughout the brain, spinal cord, and fanning out into the major areas of the body, these nerve cells send electrical messages through the body at the approximate rate of 100 meters per second.
Each microscopic nerve cell comes into close contact with the neighboring cells, to facilitate this amazing communicative process. If, for example, a car stops short in front of a driver, the signal will travel so fast that the fear, adrenaline surge, and the driver’s reaction almost seem to happen simultaneously.
Inside these tiny nerve cells, neurotransmitters are even tinier chemical messengers that bounce back and forth in the tiny spaces between the cells. These tiny spaces are called synapses.
In the synapse, the sender cell sends neurotransmitters of a specific type to a receiver cell to deliver the message. One of these neurotransmitters, and the neurotransmitter that is affected by all mind-altering drugs, is called dopamine.
Dopamine is a pleasure and pain-relieving chemical that, run by the reward center, rewards survival behaviors like eating, sex, and drinking water. Mind-altering drugs cause an unnatural rush of dopamine in the synapses. This throws off an incredibly delicate and intricate balance.
Eventually, when done enough times, many of the nerve cells start shutting down. The brain adapts to the increase in dopamine by reducing its own production. This creates tolerance, leading the user to take more and more to get the same effect. Eventually, this becomes addiction.