We often think of addiction as a moral dilemma — a sort of spiritual calamity that one needs to rebuild their entire lives around to conquer.
But what if that’s not the case? What if addiction is just a faulty brain state — a series of misconnected electrical circuits that can be shocked back into normality?
What if treating addiction is as simple as waving a figure-8-shaped magnetic wand above an addict’s head?
It’s not that crazy of an idea.
Although drug addiction is often thought of as a moral downfall, modern neuroscience sees it more as a biological phenomenon, a sort of “learning gone wrong.”
A drug high is essentially just a chemical handshake, one of the billions that happen between our neurons every day. Our brain has an innate ability to produce euphoria: pleasantly surprising things — good food, a lover’s kiss, lottery wins — activates a part of the brain called the limbic system, prompting it to release dopamine. When dopamine locks into its receptors, neurons in the limbic circuit activate in succession like a waterfall. The end result? We experience a warm, fuzzy feeling that we call happiness.
This is essential for everyday life: euphoria serves as a learning signal, telling us “yes, this is exactly what I want, what I crave, what makes me good.”
Drugs are insidious in that they hijack the very circuit that allows us to survive as a species. Cocaine, for example, prolongs the dopamine response, sending the brain into a mind-bending euphoric rush — one that’s multitudes larger than anything we can ever experience with natural stimulation. The rush, unattainable elsewhere, is what keeps some people going back for more.