Posts tagged with "Dopamine"

Do you have an addictive personality, or just a healthy enthusiasm?

February 24, 2020

Some people cannot stop tweeting; others stream endless episodes of a favorite TV series, drink gallons of coffee each week; bet on competitive sports;  cover themselves with tattoos, jockey for position on video games, or visit tanning salons. While they may not be taking opioids, they still might be “addicted.”

But is there such a thing as an addictive personality? The informal answer is yes, according to the American Addiction Centers—one of the largest networks of rehab facilities nationwide.

Indeed, the rehabilitation experts describe “addictive personality” as an informal term that links particular personality traits to a higher risk of addiction or other problematic behaviors—such as drug abuse, cigarette smoking, gambling, or even constant social media use—according to a report by MindyBodyGreen 

“The term is used colloquially to refer to people who have tendencies that appear to lead to addiction-like behaviors,” says George Koob, Ph.D., director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).

“Addictive personality” is a term often used in association with alcoholism, but you can also feel addicted to other things, like certain activities, people, foods, or physical objects. According to J. Wesley Boyd, M.D., Ph.D., an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School’s Center for Bioethics, behaviors like gambling, frequent social media use, or even video gaming can also be addictive.

“For people who are addicted to these behaviors—and even those who just derive intense enjoyment from them—engaging in these behaviors can result in the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that is the final common pathway of basically every drug of abuse,” Dr. Boyd told MindyBodyGreen.

He also notes that you can even be addicted to another person in a dating relationship because of this neurochemical response. That said, an unhealthy addiction is very different from healthy enthusiasm.

“Being addicted to something means it has taken over your life and that you are sacrificing important things in your life in service of the addiction,” says Boyd. Koob describes addiction similarly as “being stuck in a cycle in which a person binges on a substance, feels discomfort when the substance wears off, and is preoccupied with procuring and using the substance again.” (And again, this doesn’t apply only to physical substances—it can also be behaviors or experiences.)

On the flip side, “enthusiasm means that you might love something and even that you might look forward to it much of the time, but you are not and will not compromise basic important elements in your life,” Boyd says. 

Some experts believe that the term “addicted” is used too loosely to explain behaviors that are closer to enthusiasm, so Boyd uses exercise as an example of this distinction: An enthusiastic exerciser will look forward to workouts but probably won’t work out when they’re sick, he says. An exercise “addict,” on the other hand, might continue exercising even when they have the flu, despite adverse outcomes. 

“There are definitely individuals who are prone to become addicted in various ways,” Boyd says, noting that addiction is often a combination of both genetics and the environment. “Some of this is based on personal history, but much of it is determined by having a family history of addiction.”

According to MindBodyGreen, people who are at a higher-than-average risk for addiction may have some of the following markers:

  • A close family member with an addiction. Boyd says individuals born to parents who have an addiction are more likely to become addicted themselves, and lots of research backs this up. Overall, it appears that genetic heritability affects addiction by between 40% and 70%—but Koob is careful to note that this genetic component comes from many different pathways, and the likelihood of developing an addiction is due to both the environment and your genetics.
  • An OCD diagnosis. Several other disorders, including obsessive-compulsive disorder, are more likely to co-occur with addiction.
  • Impulsive tendencies and trouble self-regulating. A study about video game addiction found that impulsive people might be more prone to developing an addiction.
  • Low self-esteem. For certain people, low self-esteem also appears to be associated with a higher risk for developing an addiction, according to the study about video gamers.
  • ADHD. A sibling study conducted in 1997 found certain people with ADHD may be more likely to develop substance use disorders, and more recent studies have found that ADHD and substance use disorders tend to co-occur in the same patients.
  • Social anxiety. People who feel lonely and anxious during social events are more likely to develop problematic internet use tendencies, according to a 2007 study. This may be because scrolling the internet can feel soothing in the moment, which helps to reduce overall feelings of anxiety or discomfort.
  • A traumatic history. Koob says people who have a history of abuse or trauma may be more likely to initiate substance abuse in order to reduce their discomfort.

Again, Koob is careful to note, “While there are tendencies that increase the risk of a substance use disorder, they don’t comprise a specific personality type, such as an addictive personality.”

Research contact: @mindbodygreen

 

Facing the music: Why it feels so good to sing in the car

November 2, 2018

There’s nothing like belting out a song in the car to brace you for a hard day ahead—or to bring you back from the doldrums. You’ve probably experienced the euphoria of hopping into the car, turning the volume up on your favorite tune, and singing along like you’re performing at the Grammys. But you might not realize that it’s actually good for your health, the Huffington Post reported on November 1.

In fact, according to findings by researchers at Ashford University— an online for-profit school based in San Diego— music, alone, can increase antibodies that boost your immunity and protect your body against bacteria.

What’s more, the HuffPost reports, singing can induce a bunch of feel-good mental health effects—among them:

indeed, Connie Omari, a licensed professional counselor practicing in North Carolina and owner of Tech Talk Therapy, told the Huffington Post that she suggests singing and driving to her patients. The practice can be its own form of meditation and can help to quiet a racing mind. “By listening to music,” she said, “drivers are [given] an opportunity to replace negative thoughts with more [positivity] through the use of rhythm and beats.” she said.

And because driving alone for long periods of time can have negative effects (some research has found it increases the risk of depression), Omari said singing and driving on a regular basis can help to slightly alleviate some of those issues.

“Most people feel the effects of oxytocin when they’re hugging someone or in the beginning stages of a romantic relationship,” Ziskind noted. “Oxytocin initiates emotions like trust, a sense of stability, and even relaxation.

“It boosts mood and uplifts mood,” she said, adding that oxytocin isn’t the only happy hormone that is released when you’re blasting your favorite tunes. “Studies have shown [e.g., a study published in the journal Nature in 2014] that simply thinking about listening to your favorite song, before you actually listen, releases serotonin, another feel-good chemical in your brain that reduces anxiety.”

  • The dopamine released when you sing can reduce your road rage. In addition to the other feel-good hormones mentioned above, you’re also releasing a hefty dose of dopamine. Kristen Fuller, a physician and clinical mental health writer for Center For Discovery, a treatment center in California, told the HuffPost that dopamine is the kind of neurotransmitter you want if you face a lot of traffic during your commute, because it has an effect on your emotions—producing sensations of pleasure.

“Dopamine boosts your motivation and drive,” Fuller said. “This happy mood can result in less road rage and friendlier driving — which can potentially lead to [fewer] accidents.”

  • Singing releases tension in your diaphragm more naturally than taking deep breaths. When you are anxious, a good remedy is to take long, deep breaths—bBut singing along to your favorite song might be even better than inhaling and exhaling.

Loretta G. Breuning, founder of the Inner Mammal Institute in San Francisco, told the daily news outlet that singing actually relieves tension that can build up in your diaphragm. Tension happens when your body believes you’re being threatened, even if the only danger is being late for work.

“Shallow breathing is a common response to tension,” Breuning said. “It can become a habit, and even though you’re not doing it consciously, it reinforces the sense that you’re threatened. Deeper breaths feel good, but natural ones feel better than forced ones. That’s what singing does.”

  • Singing can help you with unprocessed emotions. Even if the song you’re listening to happens to be sad, it can still help you process your emotions in a healthy way. Depending on your mood, different kinds of musiccan feel almost therapeutic, according to a course taught at Penn State University.

Music is emotionally evocative and helps bring up emotions you might have otherwise avoided for a long time, said Nick Hobson, director of science at the coaching service Psychology Compass, an online “cognition calculator.”

“It’s for this exact reason why music therapy is showing promising results for helping people deal with anxiety, depression and PTSD,” Hobson told the HuffPost.

Research contact: @emilyblackwood

 

You won’t be a hit with mosquitoes, if you swat back

July 6, 2018

Do you ever feel as if you have been singled out in a crowd—the only one to return home from outdoor activities with itchy, red welts rising all over your body? Well, we hate to say so, but it’s true: Mosquitos remember the taste and smell of human blood, according to researchers at the Frain Life Science Institute at Virginia Tech, and they often pick on people whose blood tastes the sweetest to them.

That’s the bad news. The good news, based on a recent study, is that, if you swat determinedly at the mosquitoes around you, they will remember the unpleasant sensation—and stay away from you in the future.

Indeed, the Virginia Tech study—published last January in the journal Current Biology—found that the pesky insects have much larger and longer memories than we could have imagined. The researchers found that mosquitoes can learn rapidly and remember the smells of the tastiest hosts. Dopamine is a key mediator of this process. Mosquitoes use this information and incorporate it with other stimuli to develop preferences for a particular vertebrate host species, and, within that population, certain individuals

However, the study also proved that even if an individual is deemed delicious-smelling, a mosquito’s preference can shift if that person’s smell is associated with an unpleasant sensation. Hosts who swat at mosquitoes or perform other defensive behaviors may be abandoned, no matter how sweet.

Clément Vinauger, an assistant professor of Biochemistry in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences; and Chloé Lahondère, a research assistant professor in the Department of Biochemistry, demonstrated that mosquitoes exhibit a trait known as aversive learning by training female Aedes aegypti mosquitoes to associate odors (including human body odors) with unpleasant shocks and vibrations.

Twenty-four hours later, the same mosquitoes were assessed in a Y-maze olfactometer in which they had to fly upwind and choose between the once-preferred human body odor and a control odor. The mosquitoes avoided the human body odor—suggesting that they had been successfully trained.

By taking a multidisciplinary approach and using cutting-edge techniques, including CRISPR gene editing and RNA interference (RNAi), the scientists also were able to identify that dopamine is a key mediator of aversive learning in mosquitoes.

They targeted specific parts of the brain involved in olfactory integration by fitting mosquitoes with helmets that allowed for brain activity recordings and observations. By placing mosquitoes in an insect flight simulator and exposing the mosquitoes to various smells, including human body odors, the scientists observed how the insects, trained or not, reacted. What they saw is that the neural activity in the brain region where olfactory information is processed was modulated by dopamine in such a way that odors were easier to discriminate, and potentially learn, by the mosquitoes.

“Unfortunately, there is no way of knowing exactly what attracts a mosquito to a particular human. Individuals are made up of unique molecular cocktails that include combinations of more than 400 chemicals,” said Lahondère.  “However, we now know that mosquitoes are able to learn odors emitted by their host and avoid those that were more defensive.”

“Understanding these mechanisms of mosquito learning and preferences may provide new tools for mosquito control,” said Vinauger. “For example, we could target mosquitoes’ ability to learn and either impair it or exploit it to our advantage.”

Research contact: vinauger@vt.edu