Neurotransmitters Pt. 1

This was originally posted on my other blog Humanus Vegetalis. I'm slowly, but surely transferring those posts here because I got tired of having two blogs. I realized finally that I could post about all the things I think; things that go on in my life; things I've learned, and make money all on this blog. I just don't have time to maintain two blogs. Anyway, this was originally posted several months ago. I am not currently being weaned off of Klonopin since I have a new Psychiatrist.

For the next few posts, I will be taking parts of text from a book called: Addiction: From Biology to Drug Policy in the hopes that by studying a bit about how our brains work, we might be able to understand a bit more about what goes on in that lump of gray matter and why we do some of the things we do when we are addicted to certain substances, be they legal or illegal. I am, for instance, at this point in my life addicted to Klonopin,(My psychiatrist prescribed this for my anxiety and panic attacks knowing that it was possible that I could become physically addicted to it since it does stay in the body longer than other anti-anxiety drugs and is very easy to become addicted to. At the time, there was really no other way to control my panic attacks. I was having several per day. I am now attempting, with the counsel of my psychiatrist, weaning myself off of Klonopin with good results.) which I posted on a few days back. There are certain mechanisms in the brain that are affected by different drugs and I hope by posting about them you and I can dissemble the information we don't understand and assimilate it back into our brains in a way that we can understand. (I don't know about y'all, but most of the biologic things about psychology are kind of hard for me to understand unless I reassemble the information in a bit of a different way so that it makes sense to me. It is, sometimes, quite complicated and difficult for me to understand.)

The Brain's Own Drugs
Roger Whitcomb is absent from the office this afternoon. Unable to wait until evening, the craving nagging at him relentlessly, he quit work and rushed home. He is missing importand business, but no business is as important as what he is about to do. Sitting on a soft easy chair, he places a pellet of crack cocaine in the bowl of a little pipe. He trembles with anticipation as he lights it and inhales deeply. A few seconds later he feels it "hit". An overwhleming sense of alertness, power, deep satisfaction, almost-orgasmic pleasure sweeps over him. A few hours later, he is stil at it, using up his entire $200 supply of crack cocaine, needing more and more of it to sustain the euphoria.

I did crack once, when I was 15, but I don't remember feeling like that. I had done cocaine already and, for me, it felt just like the cocaine high, but according to other people I've known/talked to who have done crack on a regular basis, this is pretty much the description of how they feel. I know, though, what it's like to obsess over a drug and to want it all the time. At first, when my psychiatrist told me that he would be decreasing my dosage of Klonopin, I freaked out a little. I didn't tell him, but that was the first indication to me that I was more than just casually acquainted with it. The next incident came when, one day, I was needing to take one because I was feeling a panic attack coming on and I couldn't find my bottle of Klonopin. Then, I really freaked out. I ransacked my room, my tv room and my purse trying to find it (it was in my purse). When I calmed down, I realized that I had seen other people do this very thing when they were jonesing for their drug of choice that they were addicted to. So, I had to admit to myself right then and there that I was physically addicted to it.

It is not only cocaine, but every addictive drug works by mimicking or blocking one of the substances that neurons (nerve cells) in the brain use to communicate with each other. These substances are called neurotransmitters. Each on locks onto its own special receptor in a process described by the famous lock-and-key analogy. (That explanation will come later.)

A drug is any chemical agent that affects biologic (body) function. So, then we can correctly say that our bodies make drugs of their own. For example, insulin, which is produced by the pancreas and stimulates cell metabolism in other tissues can also be administered as a medication if the natural supply fails. In this same category are other hormones like growth hormone, thyroid hormone, sex steroids, and the interleukins that regulate the immune system. (From Miriam-Webster Online via Encylopedia Brittanica Online, interleukins are: any of a group of naturally occurring proteins that mediate communication between cells. Interleukins regulate cell growth, differentiation, and motility. They are particularly important in stimulating immune responses, such as inflammation.) The neurotransmitters are drugs that are made in neurons, and then are released from neurons to act on other neurons or on muscles or glands. When you walk, nerves in your leg tell each muscle when to contract by releasing a neurotransmitter, acetylcholine, directly onto that muscle. The acetylcholine is a chemical trigger that activates the machinery that causes the muscle fibers to shorten, thus exerting the force that moves your leg. When you are frightened, your adrenal gland rleases a hormone, epinephrine (adrenaline), which is circulated in the blood and acts on your heart to make it beat faster. When you salivate in anticipation of tasty food, it is because nerves are releasing their neurotransmitters onto your salivary glands.

Addiction is a behavior, and all human behavior has a biologic basis in the workings of the brain. The "hardware" of the brain consists of a thousand billion neurons (I could be wrong, but I don't think anyone really knows how many neurons are in the brain. I'm assuming this is a guesstimate.) with their complex network of interconnections, the neurotransmitters they manufacture, and the specialized receptors on which the neurotransmitters act. All this hardware develops initially according to the blueprints in the DNA of our genes, but it is also modified by experience. The "software" consists of the memories, learning, and conditioning that reflect inputs from the environment. Because the brain is a chemical organ, brain chemistry is responsible for the finely regulated and coordinated functioning of both the hardware and the software. So, even psychologic disorders must arise ultimately through chemical changes. It is not a question of psychology versus biology; on the contrary, in the final analysis psychology is biology.

If anyone has opinions or ideas that are different from this or any questions, I'd be glad to hear them. I'm still a Psych. undergraduate, but I can try to answer any questions to the best of my ability. If I don't know, I can try to find someone who does or a website that has the information. My aim with this blog is to offer help and information.

On the next post, I'll put up some info about chemical transmission in the brain. I can only hope this info is as enlightening to you as it is to me.

Text taken from: Addiction: From Biology to Drug Policy. Author: Avram Goldstein, M.D., Copyright 2001, Oxford University Press, pp. 19-21



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