Reward Deficiency Syndrome is a condition in which an individual lacks a proper brain chemical balance and as a result experiences stress, pain, discomfort, and agitation. More specifically, the human brain produces several “feel good” chemicals, like serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, GABA, and endorphins. These chemicals are responsible for activating the brain’s “reward center” or specific brain receptors. When these “feel good” chemicals are low or blocked from the brain’s receptors, a person can experience mood instability, anxiety, hypersensitivity, and irritability. This condition is known as Reward Deficiency Syndrome.
The Connection between Reward Deficiency Syndrome and Addiction
Individuals can be born with the genetic make-up that interferes with the proper production or utilization of “feel good” brain chemicals; this is true for many individuals with a family history of alcoholism, addiction, or other mental health disorders. Addiction has been linked to a defective dopamine receptor gene known as the D2A1 allele. Individuals with a defective dopamine receptor gene lack enough dopamine receptors in the brain to experience a “neurochemical reward” or feelings of wellbeing. Therefore, individuals with a family history of addiction are susceptible to this gene and Reward Deficiency Syndrome. Conversely, drug and alcohol use can also lead to the development of this defect. Addiction changes the way the brain works, including the brain’s natural chemical reward process. As drugs or alcohol continue to interfere with the brain’s chemical process, a person can lose the natural ability to produce “feel good” chemicals and this may prompt continued substance abuse for self-medicating purposes. Reward Deficiency Syndrome may also develop from prolonged stress and trauma.
Individuals with Reward System Deficiency, from genetic or environmental causes, are both highly-susceptible to addictions. If a person cannot naturally make themselves feel good, they are likely to seek out substances or behaviors that will produce these feelings for them. Drugs and alcohol are substances that have the ability to chemically activate the brain’s reward system and alter mood and energy levels. People are able to relieve stress, suppress physical pain, escape from emotional pain, and combat symptoms of anxiety, depression, or other mood disorders temporarily with the use of these substances. Self-medicating Reward Deficiency Syndrome significantly increases the risk of developing chemical dependency and addiction. Food is another substance that can affect the brain’s reward system and this can lead to food addiction, weight gain, obesity, and major health problems. Behavioral addictions, like gambling or sex, can also result from Reward Deficiency Syndrome because these activities also affect brain chemicals.
Treating Reward Deficiency Syndrome during Addiction Treatment
While certain substances or behaviors may temporarily relieve the symptoms of Reward Deficiency Syndrome, addiction only exacerbates these symptoms and causes more damage to the brain. Individuals with Reward Deficiency Syndrome must find and practice healthy ways of creating feelings of wellness. There are many options for addressing the genetic factors that contribute to this condition and developing strategies to manage the condition so it has limited effects on one’s life. Individuals struggling with addiction can learn to manage Reward Deficiency Syndrome through addiction treatment programs.
Get Help for Reward Deficiency Syndrome and Addiction
If you are concerned that you or a loved one is suffering from Reward Deficiency Syndrome and/or addiction, we can help. Please call our toll-free number to speak with a recovery professional that can help. Recovery professionals are happy to assist you 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Whether you have questions, need information, or are ready to find treatment and recovery services today, we can help.