Eating a candy bar and injecting heroin each trigger a part of the brain that reinforces feeling good.
“Pleasure is pleasure,” said Jean Bidlack, a researcher at the University of Rochester Medical Center who is looking at a different way to treat opioid addiction.
While much of current thinking is focused on opioid receptors, Bidlack is going to look at how the neurotransmitter dopamine affects the desire for drugs.
“A candy bar will give you a little bit of dopamine release and give you pleasure,” said Bidlack, a professor of pharmacology and physiology. Regular ingestion can turn into a habit, but stopping isn’t likely to fundamentally change your life.
“Drugs of abuse like opioids will give you a very high dopamine level,” Bidlack said. “The brain adapts and says, ‘I want that high dopamine level all the time.’ And then when you don’t have it, that’s when the craving is very, very strong.”