THE CRAVING BRAIN
Hans Selye, in his ground breaking study, clarifies the bodies need to rebalance after stressed. The long and short of his landmark work, shows that a stressor, whether it be a loud noise, fear, panic, hunger, isolation all activates every organ and every chemical reaction in the body, producing a ‘general stress reaction’
. The goal of the body immediately following the stress response is to return it to a place of homeostasis or a calm and balanced state. If the body cannot do this it begins to go scavenging for ways to adapt.
These two processes
- The acute attempt to return to equilibrium &
- The adaptation to chronic conditions
lay the foundations for the typical response to stress.
Our every day interaction with the world around us act as stressors. They unbalance our chemistry, blood pressure, thoughts and moods. In turn we inadvertently or unconsciously stumble into behaviours that help rebalance our biochemical landscape.
How many of us, after a stressful week, have not sat down and reached for a sugar fix, a beer or a glass of wine. We sense a calming and rebalancing an ‘ah’. It only takes several repetitions of this behaviour and now the brain stands at attention and says "Wow, awesome!"
Now the brains greatest tool ‘pattern recognition’ jumps into gear and now not just after but also during the stressful week, we begin craving that end of the week chemical rebalancing. In fact we begin to not wait for Friday – why not have a few glasses at the end of every stressful day.
The brain activates what Hans Selye calls ‘the general adaptation syndrome’.
Producing the Craving Landscape
Animal experiments suggest that ‘unpredictable stress’ reduces the brain serotonin and increases the sensitivity of the nucleus accumbens. Accordingly inescapable stress appears to produce the craving landscape and hence the animal increases their alcohol intake.
Stressors such as relational dysfunction, divorce, unemployment, health issues, trauma, abandonment, loss or isolation all add to the risk of stress and possible addictions.
Conclusion – a culmination of stress on an appropriate bio-chemical landscape can in actuality produce chronic stress and anxiety, that may in turn plant seeds of adaptive opportunity for dysfunctional or addictive behaviour.
At the end of a long day, as we begin to run out of dopamine, we feel tired and have less ability to concentrate. Low dopamine makes us tired and depressed. In contrast high dopamine makes us feel good, think clearly and make decisions. After a good nights rest when our dopamine is restored we feel and think much clearer.
According to Ronald Ruden, addictive and compulsive behaviours may occur when dopamine increase the nucleus accumbens but also stress induces low levels of landscape serotonin.