Neuro-philosophical account of addiction

Addiction appears to be a habitual dopamine release in the reward system of the brain, and one of the best explanations of dopamine in this system is that it triggers the expectation of a good (for example, when dopamine is supressed, people still enjoy doing pleasant things but they don’t look forward to them; and when dopamine is artificially released people describe feelings of continually expecting a good thing to happen.)

If this is right, then addiction is the habitual attempt to generate good things from the mere expectation of good things. We look at the cigarette or sugar or drug not so much as something we enjoy, but as something that promises enjoyment. To actually enjoy requires more than tingles and itch-scratching – we have to feel like we’ve accomplished some human excellence, like one we can look back on with pride.

In fact, we can chemically fake both the expectation of the good (dopamine) and the sense that we have had it (seratonin), but not the sense of actually enjoying it. Human enjoyment is either an accomplishment or a sheer gift of the gods, though it is the latter only in relatively rare and intermittent flashes.


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