What Rats Tell Us About Addiction
A look into our own neurochemistry
Why do dome drug addicts give into the urge while others don’t?
What does it feel like when we can no longer resist the temptation or that dopamine hit we so desperately need?
Rats have been used to explain a number of things about our own minds. This experiment aims to answer the questions above.
Scientists fitted rats with a special device that was used to measure dopamine levels in their brain. Dopamine is the feel good chemical that gives us motivation to basically do anything.
This includes getting out of bed in the morning, brushing our teeth, eating, and much more. Dopamine helps to give us the motivation we need to get things done throughout our day.
Unfortunately, it is also what leads many to addiction. When an activity causes a huge spike in our dopamine levels, our brain wants more of that activity.
This is why people can easily become addicted to hard drugs and sex. They give off that instant pleasure and huge increase in dopamine that is hard to find anywhere else.
The experiment involved rats that were addicted to cocaine. When they pressed down on a lever, a sound and light would go off and the drug would enter their system.
The addiction was so strong that the rats would often choose the hit of cocaine over food that was in the cage. This led to some of the rats dying. They could not keep themselves away from the dopamine.
What was interesting was that the scientists found that as the rats started to give into their urges, their dopamine level was initially low. As they turned to face the lever and began to walk toward it, their dopamine levels rose.
This would suggest that the anticipation and excitement of the event is just as important as the act itself. The few seconds before the act happens can be an addiction of itself.
As they got closer to the lever and pressed, their levels were back to normal. Once the lever was fully down and the cocaine hit, the levels went right back up.
Paul Phillips believed this might have been the result of the anticipation and build up we talked about. He wanted to see what would happen if he kept everything the same but took away the drug when the lever was pushed down.
Sure enough, despite no cocaine being pumped, their brains flashed immediately upon pulling the lever. This helped to prove Phillips’ theory. Perhaps the anticipation before the hit is what is the real addiction.
More research is needed to learn more about this experiment. It could be a breakthrough in the science as we know it and ultimately help people with similar addictions.