[The Knowledge Project Ep. #159] Dr. Anna Lembke: Between Pleasure and Pain
Shane: Let’s just jump right in. What is dopamine? How does it work?
Anna: So dopamine is a chemical that we make in our brain. It’s a neurotransmitter, and neurotransmitters are the molecules that bridge the gap between neurons and that gap is called the synapse. So neurotransmitters allow for fine-tuning of the electrical circuits that are conducted by the neurons themselves. Dopamine is the most important neurotransmitter for the experience of pleasure, reward, and motivation. It’s not the only neurotransmitter involved in that process, but it is the common pathway for all reinforcing substances and behaviors. Anything that’s reinforcing releases dopamine in a specific circuit of the brain called the reward circuit. The more dopamine it releases and the faster it releases dopamine, the more reinforcing and potentially addictive that substance or behavior is.
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