Reward Deficiency Syndrome

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Dr. Drew W. Edwards

I could watch the sunrise or see a rainbow,  but I could never experience their warmth or beauty---Amanda 33

Reward Deficiency Syndrome or RDS is brain disorder characterized by a clinically significant deficiency of the essential neurotransmitter--Dopamine in the brain's Reward Center, specifically the midbrain and prefrontal cortex. It is primarily acquired genetically but can also result from prolonged stress.  

Why is dopamine so essential?

Dopamine mediates how we experience pleasure, reward, joy and contentment. Recent research shows that as many as 30% of the US population have a genetically acquired “dopamine deficiency”--and thus, are more likely to develop addictive disease, or other debilitating brain disorders including: Depression, anxiety disorder, compulsive use of  pornography, pathological gambling, hedonic overeating, neurogenic pain, ADHD,  and stress related disorders. Additionally, the abuse of drugs or alcohol,  sexual activity, and even participation in high-risk / high thrill activities, also cause a temporary surge in dopamine. The continued use or abuse of intoxicants or participation in high thrill activities can result in significant change or damage to the brain. 

"My life was just blah and boring.  But after a few drinks or a line of cocaine, life became interesting and exciting for a little while." ---Terrell, 39                                                                                                                                                                                                     

How do you know if you have RDS?

If you've inherited the gene for dopamine deficiency--and are exposed to a substance or a behavior that elevates your dopamine level, particularly during a time of stress, you will feel a lot better—at least for a little while. You might even conclude that you had found the solution to stress, depression, boredom, bad days, and difficult people. Of course, the relief is only temporary, but learning how to make bad feelings go away--if just for a little while, is a big and very important step towards addiction.

The persistent use of drugs and/or alcohol may also create reward deficits in the brain. All drugs of abuse spike the brain’s dopamine level which results in feeling "high". But what goes up--must come down. After the high, dopamine levels become abnormally low. So the more someone uses drugs to feel better, the worse they actually become. It takes sustained abstinence before the individual’s brain is able to replenish dopamine levels and function normally. 

 I have been sober for 3 months and today I awoke to the sounds of birds chirping and singing outside my window. Those birds have been there for years, but I never noticed them until today. It was awesome! --Kalisha, 27

RDS is an important advance in how we conceptualize addiction and other debilitating brain disorders. It has also opened the door for new and novel treatments to reduce the pain and suffering associated with RDS. Traditional treatment such as medication, psychotherapy, and social support, remain the treatment of choice for most problems associated with RDS. However, new and novel treatment such as Magnetic Brain Stimulation and the dopamine agonists,Synaptamine has produced clinically significant reduction of symptoms associated with RDS. So there has never been a better time to feel bad. 

Learn more about  Addictive Disease 


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