top of page
  • Kimberly Burnham, PhD (Integrative Medicine)

Dopamine and Addiction-Free Consciousness

Abstract Circles

Stop Repetition’s Pain – Harnessing Dopamine, Acupuncture’s Gallbladder Meridian and Sensational Medicine to Heal Your Brain

Dopamine is the brain chemical of your brain’s reward circuitry which regulates your voluntarily moving towards what you want. Dopamine helps you see your path and consciously move towards your goals. It is also the neurotransmitter of brain chemical that influences addiction or unconscious craving. Substance addiction can be viewed as the end point of a series of transitions from initial voluntary substance use to the complete loss of conscious “voluntary” control over this behavior, such that it becomes habitual and, ultimately, compulsive.

It is a continuum from consciously achieving your goals to compulsive repetitive consciousness destroying behavior.

Both dopamine and the neurotransmitter, acetylcholine have been linked with consciousness and particularly self-awareness. Recently researchers have presented the hypothesis that not only is self-awareness chemically regulated, but the reverse may be true. In other words your brain chemistry regulates your level of self-awareness and your level of self awareness may influence your brain chemistry depending on the conscious choices you matter in terms of what you consume both food and visual and auditory information and in terms of what information you listen to from the array of colors, shapes, sounds, taste and feelings surrounding you.

What are you doing today to increase your self-awareness or balance your brain chemistry?

Here are three quick and easy exercises that can help raise your consciousness and improve your brain chemistry:

1. Texture and Elements: Describing Your Way to Better Brain Health

Sensational Medicine, healing the sensory system with new activities. You know the saying, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. But do you know the second half? The fastest way to become an old dog? … Stop learning new tricks. So learn something new - a new trick, observe a new sensation, notice something old in a new way. These are the ways to improve your brain and eye function. Pick something up every day and notice the shape, color, texture, sound, taste, smell, temperature, consistency, and how the parts make up the whole and how it is connected to its surroundings. How is it similar or different from what is around you.

This is a sensory awareness exercises to help you – sleep deeper – relax strained eyes – enjoy more of the beauty around you – improve peripheral vision

This is also great for people who want to recognize the detail in another person’s face and improve relationships.

To use this for relaxation and for people that have trouble sleeping: It’s a great exercise to do maybe about half an hour before you want to go to sleep, just to really get yourself present to your sensations and connected to how you feel.

1. In this exercise I would like you to start by looking around yourself, feeling how you feel, what does your body feel like? What do you notice about your surroundings? And just kind of feel your environment, look at your environment. Notice where you are in time and space.

2. Then pick up an item, a relatively small item that you can hold in your hands. Describe it in as sensory terms as possible. What this means is describe: the color, the shapes, the size, the texture, the temperature, the sound of it, the taste of it, the smell of it? Us all your sense to describe it.

What I say to my one-on-one clients is “I should be able to walk in to your house after hearing your description and find the item that you described to me, from your description. I should be able to tell what it is.

For example: I am holding an item, I am going to describe it to you. I am not going to tell you what it is until the end. But, I’m hoping that from my description you will be able to recognize what it is. This item is kind of long and cylindrical and it has a pointy part at one end and a kind of a flat surface at the other end. It is white with kind of a tan design on it. And part of the design has small oval shapes. Along the smooth middle part is some writing and the letters are raised a little bit. So that as I run my finger along the writing on this item, I can feel little bumps. There is also a piece at one end opposite the pointy end, that is kind of a large oval piece. It is a harder, a harder plastic material than the rest of the item. And it is attached by a little ring around the top part of the item. If I tap it, I can hear a sound, that tells me it’s kind of a plastic material, and then there is a clicking mechanism that causes the pointy part to go in and out. This doesn’t really have a taste, it’s not a food item. It doesn’t really have a smell. Maybe when it was brand new it might have had a plastic kind of a smell.

And I hope that by now you know that what I had in my hand is a pen, a click pen. That is the kind of detail that I would like you to use to describe. It is best to do it out loud, it doesn’t have to be with someone else, but you can call up a friend and say, you know, “Kim gave me this exercise, I have to do. Can I just describe an item to you?”

See if they can guess what the item is from your description of all the different sensations. It doesn’t have to be a long time, it can be just a few minutes. Describing something now.

As you noticed it’s not just visual information, you’re really taking in all the information, through all your five senses. Through your eyes, your ears, taste, smell, if it has those things. And certainly touch, and texture, and shape.

2. Color and Sound Therapy

Consider what you are choosing to draw into yourself and your surroundings. What are the colors you are choosing to look at? What colors are you putting on your body every morning? What are the colors of your breakfast? Are you consciously choosing or are you looking, dressing and eating through habit?

In Color Therapy Khwaja Azeemi shares the effect of light, heat and color on cells, organs and on the entire human being. He correlates each organ with a certain color. For example: Heart-Red; Liver-Yellow; Thyroid-Blue; Lungs-Orange; Eyes-Sky Blue; Pancreas-Violet; Phlegmatic Glands (digestive/lymphatic)-Dark Blue; Pituitary Gland-Violet; Spleen-Purple; Bladder-Violet; Testis-Violet; Ovary-Violet.

Would your liver be healthier if you spent more time out in the yellow sunshine, ate more yellow foods with vitamin C or wore yellow socks? What are the colors you are surrounding yourself with and how are those choices influencing your brain health?

Khwaja Azeemi also correlates colors with vitamins: Vitamin A-Yellow; Vitamin B-Green; Vitamin C-Lemon Yellow; Vitamin D-Violet; Vitamin E-Violet; Vitamin K-Dark Blue.

What are you wearing, eating or looking at? What colors surround you? What kind of light are you taking in on a regular basis? Is it the full visual spectrum of sunlight or “junk food” light that strains your eyes?

How colorful are your goals, relationships and life?

3. Harnessing the Circadian Chinese Clock for Deeper Sleep, Better Vision, and Brain Health

In Traditional Chinese Medicine and acupuncture there is a rhythm a flow of energy through a system of meridians, lines of vibration with reflex points along the way. Each meridian or organ system holds the energy at the highest level for two hours. Then the energy flows into the next meridian, supporting healing and function as it moves.

There are lots of ways to use this information to improve your circadian sleep rhythms for deeper sleep, as well as better brain focus, attention, vision and hearing.

For example, liver congestion can cause headaches, restlessness and insomnia. The liver is most active from 1 am to 3 am. If you wake up between these times, one way to get back to sleep is to put one hand over the liver in the lower right hand side of the rib cage and the other hand over your head or heart. Connecting the two areas for a few minutes can have a calming and relaxing effect on the liver allowing for better energy flow and sleep to return. You can also visualize a color, shape or feeling along the organ and its meridian that can improve the blood flow to the organ and better health.

The gallbladder is the other wood element and is associated with the color green and the neurotransmitter dopamine. While acetylcholine is associated with the stomach meridian, the color yellow and the earth element.

Here are the names of the organ systems and the times:

The Wood Elements for Growth & Vitality: Gallbladder 11 pm–1 am and Liver 1–3 am; green color, anger emotion, compassion virtue.

The Metal Elements for Clarity & Precision: Lung 3–5 am; Large Intestine 5–7 am; white color, grief emotion, justice virtue.

The Earth Elements for Nourishment & Stability: Stomach 7–9 am; Spleen / Pancreas 9–11am; yellow color, worry and disappointment emotion, faith virtue.

The Fire Elements for Passion & High Energy: Heart 11 am–1 pm; Small Intestine 1–3 pm; red color, joy / mania emotion, propriety and courtesy virtue.

The Water Elements for Ease & Abundance: Bladder 3–5 pm; Kidney 5–7 pm; blue color, fear emotion, wisdom virtue.

Two more Fire Elements: Pericardium 7–9 pm; Triple Warmer (endocrine and temperature regulation) 9–11 pm; red color, joy / mania emotion, propriety and courtesy virtue.

Let’s say you wanted more abundance in your life. Between 3 pm and 7 pm during the water element’s period you could do a visualization around flow through the bladder and kidneys or energy warming the bladder and kidneys or do a stretch for the mid back area (around the kidneys) and pelvic area (bladder) to free up and relax this area.

For improvements in your digestive system consider what you are eating during the times when the small intestine (site of most absorption of food) is most active. For better circulation consider what you are eating for lunch while the heart is most active.

For a Deeper Understanding of Addiction, Acupuncture and the Brain:

Consciousness Dopamine and Acetylcholine “We here review experimental findings relevant for the pharmacology of conscious experience, an issue largely neglected in pharmacological research. First, we focus on self-awareness, a pivotal component of conscious experience and its integration within the global neuronal network (GNW), a theoretical concept that unifies convergent approaches on the neural bases of conscious processing. We report recent evidence to show that self-awareness mobilizes a paralimbic circuitry of gamma synchrony, and that such synchrony is, in particular, regulated by GABA interneurons under the control of acetylcholine and dopamine. Recent data illustrate that these neurotransmitters establish a causal relationship with the control of self-awareness. The hypothesis is presented that not only is self-awareness chemically regulated, but the reverse may be true. Long-term deficit in self-control of drug intake would result in compulsive substance use, accompanied, in particular, with lesions of the paralimbic circuitry of self-awareness, leading to aggravation of substance abuse, resulting in addiction in a vicious circle. Finally, we propose that the emergent pharmacology of conscious experience may provide new perspectives, not only in substance addiction but also in the many other pathological conditions with deficient self-awareness.” —Changeux, J. P. and H. C. Lou (2011). “Emergent pharmacology of conscious experience: new perspectives in substance addiction.” Faseb J 25(7): 2098-2108.

Dopamine and Nicotine “The dopamine (DA) system of the ventral midbrain plays a critical role as mammals learn adaptive behaviors driven by environmental salience and reward. Addictive drugs, including nicotine, exert powerful influences over the mesolimbic DA system by activating and desensitizing nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) in a subtype-dependent manner. Nicotine induces synaptic plasticity at excitatory synapses onto DA neurons, thereby sending elevated DA signals that participate during the reinforcement of addictive behaviors. While humans and animals of any developmental age are potentially vulnerable to these drug-induced effects, evidence from clinical and epidemiological studies indicates that adolescents have an increased risk of addiction. Age-related differences in the excitability and the nicotine sensitivity within the midbrain dopamine system may contribute to the greater risk of nicotine addiction in adolescent animals and humans.” —Placzek, A. N., T. A. Zhang, et al. (2009). “Age dependent nicotinic influences over dopamine neuron synaptic plasticity.” Biochem Pharmacol 78(7): 686-692.

Dopamine and Addiction, Parkinson’s Disease and Schizophrenia

“Dopamine is an important catecholamine neurotransmitter modulating many physiological functions, and is linked to psychopathology of many diseases such as schizophrenia and drug addiction. Dopamine D1 and D2 receptors are the most abundant dopaminergic receptors in the striatum.” —Hasbi, A., B. F. O’Dowd, et al. (2011). “Dopamine D1-D2 receptor heteromer signaling pathway in the brain: emerging physiological relevance.” Mol Brain 4: 26.

“Four to 10% of patients with Parkinson disease and chronically treated with levodopa undergo an addiction-like behavioral disturbance named dopamine dysregulation syndrome (DDS). This article suggests that patients with Parkinson disease could be especially prone to develop DDS due to the dopamine deficiency and the “priming” of neural networks by the chronic use of drugs with a short half-life, such as levodopa. These suggestions are based on the clinical and molecular similarities between levodopa-induced dyskinesias and behavioral alterations seen in DDS and addiction to illegal drugs. Motor and behavioral abnormalities can be seen as the consequence of common mechanisms involving anomalous forms of neural plasticity. These forms affect parts of the cortical-basal ganglia-thalamocortical circuits that are topographically organized to differently modulate emotional and motor functions. Recent evidence using positron emission tomography provides support to this idea.” Linazasoro, G. (2009).”Dopamine dysregulation syndrome and levodopa-induced dyskinesias in Parkinson disease: common consequences of anomalous forms of neural plasticity.” Clin Neuropharmacol 32(1): 22-27.

“Dopamine (DA) modulates the response of the amygdala. We measured DA D2/D3 receptor (DRD2/3) availability in twenty-eight healthy men (nicotine-dependent smokers and never-smokers). We observed enhanced prefrontal DRD2/3 availability in those individuals with higher amygdala response to unpleasant stimuli. As compared to never-smokers, smokers showed an attenuated amygdala BOLD response to unpleasant stimuli. Through this mechanism, dopaminergic neurotransmission might influence vulnerability for affective and anxiety disorders. Neuronal reactivity to unpleasant stimuli seems to be reduced by smoking. This observation could explain increased smoking rates in individuals with mental disorders.” —Kobiella, A., S. Vollstadt-Klein, et al. (2010). “Human dopamine receptor D2/D3 availability predicts amygdala reactivity to unpleasant stimuli.” Hum Brain Mapp 31(5): 716-726.

“Maladaptive dopaminergic mediation [dopamine balance in the brain] of reward processing in humans is thought to underlie multiple neuropsychiatric disorders, including addiction, Parkinson’s disease, and schizophrenia. Mechanisms responsible for the development of such disorders may depend on individual differences in neural signaling within large-scale cortico-subcortical circuitry … We found drug-specific associations between brain circuitry reactivity to dopamine modulation and individual differences in trait impulsivity, revealing dissociable drug-personality interaction effects across distinct dopamine-dependent cortico-subcortical networks.” —Cole, D. M., N. Y. Oei, et al. (2012). “Dopamine-Dependent Architecture of Cortico-Subcortical Network Connectivity.” Cereb Cortex.

“Neural plasticity in the human cortex involves a reorganization of synaptic connections in an effort to adapt to a changing environment. In schizophrenia, dysfunctional neural plasticity has been proposed as a key pathophysiological mechanism… Both medicated and unmedicated patients with schizophrenia demonstrated significantly reduced motor reorganization compared with healthy subjects. It is possible that in schizophrenia, these deficits in neural plasticity are related to disturbances of gamma-aminobutyric acid, N-methyl-D-aspartate neurotransmission, or dopamine that may potentially account for the aberrant motor performance of these patients.” —Daskalakis, Z. J., B. K. Christensen, et al. (2008). “Dysfunctional neural plasticity in patients with schizophrenia.” Arch Gen Psychiatry 65(4): 378-385.

Inflammatory Histamine and Alcohol

“Brain histamine [inflammation and allergy related chemicals] regulates alcohol-related behaviors. Histamine levels are higher in alcohol-preferring than in alcohol-nonpreferring rat brains. Current evidence suggests that the histaminergic system is involved in the regulation of place preference behavior triggered by alcohol, possibly through an interaction with the mesolimbic dopamine system. Histamine may also interact with dopamine in the regulation of the cortico-striato-pallido-thalamo-cortical motor pathway and cerebellar mechanisms, which may be important in different motor behaviors beyond alcohol-induced motor disturbances.” —Panula, P. and S. Nuutinen (2011). “Histamine and H3 receptor in alcohol-related behaviors.” J Pharmacol Exp Ther 336(1): 9-16.

Acupuncture and Psychotherapy Decreases Internet Addiction

“One hundred and twenty cases of internet addiction disorder (IAD) were randomly divided into electroacupuncture (EA) group, psychotherapy group and electroacupuncture (EA) plus psychotherapy group (combined therapy group). In EA group, [acupuncture points] Baihui (GV 20), Sishencong (EX-HN 1), Hegu (LI 4), Neiguan (PC 6), Taichong (LR 3) and Sanyinjiao (SP 6) were selected in EA, once every 2 days, for 20 sessions totally. In psychotherapy group, the cognition and behavior therapy was applied, once every 4 days, for 10 sessions totally. In combined therapy group, EA combined with psychological interference was administered. Electroacupuncture combined with psychological interference can reduce network craving and anxiety of IAD patients and its mechanism is probably related with the decrease of dopamine content in central system.” —Zhu, T. M., H. Li, et al. (2011). “[Intervention on network craving and encephalofluctuogram in patients with internet addiction disorder: a randomized controlled trial].” Zhongguo Zhen Jiu 31(5): 395-399.

Acupuncture Lessens Addiction

“While there are still many unanswered questions about the basic mechanisms of acupuncture, some evidence exists to suggest that acupuncture can play an important role in reducing reinforcing effects of abused drugs. The neurochemical and behavioral evidence showed that acupuncture’s role in suppressing the reinforcing effects of abused drugs takes place by modulating mesolimbic dopamine neurons. Also, several brain neurotransmitter systems such as serotonin, opioid and amino acids including GABA have been implicated in the modulation of dopamine release by acupuncture. These results provided clear evidence for the biological effects of acupuncture that ultimately may help us to understand how acupuncture can be used to treat abused drugs.” —Yang, C. H., B. H. Lee, et al. (2008). “A possible mechanism underlying the effectiveness of acupuncture in the treatment of drug addiction.” Evid Based Complement Alternat Med 5(3): 257- 266.

“Cocaine addiction is associated with high rates of relapse, and stress has been identified as a major risk factor. … Acupuncture at [Heart meridian] HT7, but not at control point LI5 [Large intestine Meridian], markedly reduced reinstatement of cocaine-seeking. These results suggest that acupuncture attenuates stress-induced relapse by regulating neuronal activation in the NAc shell.” —Yoon, S. S., E. J. Yang, et al. (2012). “Effects of acupuncture on stress-induced relapse to cocaine-seeking in rats.” Psychopharmacology (Berl) 222(2): 303-311.

“The aim of this study was to investigate the effect of acupuncture to the acupuncture point HT7 (Sinmun) on morphine-induced behavioral sensitization and the neuronal changes in nucleus accumbens and striatum in rats. … These results demonstrated that the inhibitory effect of the acupuncture stimulation to HT7 on morphine-induced behavioral sensitization was closely associated with the suppression of dopamine biosynthesis and its activity in the post-synaptic neurons in nucleus accumbens and striatum. It means that the behavioral effect of the acupuncture can originate from the modulation of the same neuronal mechanism in the central dopaminergic system as in the morphine-induced behavioral sensitization. This modulation was also strictly confined to the stimulation of the specific acupoint, because the stimulation to other acupoint (TE5) on another meridian did not show the modulating effect despite being relatively close to each other. It can be therefore suggested that the acupuncture stimulation has an acupoint-specific property, and might be a useful therapeutic alternative with few side effects for treating morphine addiction.” —Lee, B., I. Shim, et al. (2010). “Morphine-induced locomotor response and Fos expression in rats are inhibited by acupuncture.” Neurol Res 32 Suppl 1: 107-110.

“The central nervous system (CNS) is involved in a variety of disease conditions. Drug addiction is a chronic brain disease, defined as compulsive drug-seeking, drug-craving, and drug-taking behaviors. Extensive experimental evidence suggests that following exposure to drugs of abuse, neurons within the mesolimbic dopamine system undergo a series of plastic changes that may lead to compulsive emotional and motivational states. It is believed that the first step to unlock the secret of drug addiction is to identify, evaluate, and conceptualize drug-induced neural plasticity. Synaptic plasticity is one form of neuroplasticity that has been best characterized. Using addiction-related synaptic plasticity as a working model, this review attempts to depict the general concept and experimental approach in studying the pathophysiological neural basis of acupuncture.” —Zhao, H. Y., P. Mu, et al. (2008). “[The pathological neural plasticity and its application in acupuncture research].” Zhen Ci Yan Jiu 33(1): 41-46.

About the Author

Kimberly Burnham, PhD

Kimberly Burnham, PhD, The Nerve Whisperer, recovered her vision despite an ophthalmologist’s curse when she was 28 and working as a professional photographer. He said, “You have keratoconus, which is genetic so there is nothing you can do about it. ” With complementary and alternative medicine, Kim assigned a new meaning and today at 55 she has better vision than when she was 28 or 40 for that matter. Kim helps people improve their eyesight, gain new insights and create a more beautiful vision of their life. She has just started a yearlong blog series, That Intersection Point, to help you improve your vision.

#healingthebrain #consciousness #sensationalmedicine #colortherapy

bottom of page