Is It Possible To Break Free From The Chains of Addiction?

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

Our pleasure centers are intended to handle an intermittent dripping of dopamine, but what happens when we pour dopamine onto our pleasure centers and drench them? In the first episode of a series on addiction, Dr. Daniel Amen and Tana Amen explain the science behind our compulsions, and the roles biology, psychology, and even genetics play in our predisposition to addictions.


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Dr. Daniel Amen: Welcome to The Brain Warriors Way Podcast. I'm Dr. Daniel Amen.

Tana Amen: And I'm Tana Amen. Here we teach you how to win the fight for your brain, to defeat anxiety, depression, memory loss, ADHD, and addictions.

Dr. Daniel Amen: The Brain Warriors Way Podcast is brought to you by Amen Clinics. Where we've transformed lives for three decades, using brain SPECT imaging, to better target treatment, and natural ways to heal the brain. For more information, visit

Tana Amen: The Brain Warriors Way Podcast is also brought to you by Brain MD, where we produce the highest quality nutraceutical products to support the health of your brain and body. For more information, visit Welcome to The Brain Warriors Way Podcast.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Welcome, we're so excited you're back with us. We are over 100 episodes, and it's been-

Tana Amen: It's wonderful, we have what? 1.3 million downloads now?

Dr. Daniel Amen: I know, crazy.

Tana Amen: And the testimonials have been amazing, so thank you for listening, thank you for sharing. We love to hear your stories of success. They have been outstanding, and they really make our day. Please keep them coming.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Well, that's why we do that. Brain Warriors Way is you're in a war, of the health of your brain. Everywhere you go, someone's trying to shove bad food down your throat, or a pharmaceutical that may hook your mind. Today we're going to talk about addiction rescue. And, I want to-

Tana Amen: Before we do that can we read-

Dr. Daniel Amen: .... And I want to read-

Tana Amen: Yeah, I want to read this.

Dr. Daniel Amen: ... Some of our reviews. "Dear Dr. Amen and Tana, thank you both so much for taking time to record these podcasts. I'd listen to them whenever I am out on my morning walks, and I'm so grateful to have this information. I absolutely love the chemistry and fun you two have together. Here's to developing brain envy. Thank you both."

Tana Amen: I think that was a really polite way to say we're a little crazy together. It was nice.

Dr. Daniel Amen: If only they knew. Another one is, "Everybody should hear this. A fantastic podcast of bite sized insights, into the immensely important work of Dr. Daniel Amen and his wife Tana. I've been a student for about 20 years-"

Tana Amen: Oh, I love it.

Dr. Daniel Amen: "... When I bought my first copy of Change Your Brain, Change Your Life." This went over a million copies. "It is still a hugely important reference tool for me today. Can't believe that 20 years later, psychiatrists are still not looking at the organ they are supposed to be treating-"

Tana Amen: Crazy.

Dr. Daniel Amen: "Dr Amen's work should be part of the curriculum, not just for psychiatrists, but at all schools." Speaking of which, we actually have a high school program, middle school, high school, college, called, "Brain Thrive by 25." We're giving it away for free, so go to, and you can download it.

Tana Amen: It's a really great way to get youth involved, in understanding why they should take care of their brain, but it's in their language, their vernacular. It's not adults like yacking at them, it's them really talking about what's important to them.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Yeah. Lots of great reviews, thank you so much. If you haven't left a review, we'd be grateful for it 'cause it'll help spread the word about the podcast. Today we're going to talk about addiction rescue. The president just signed an order saying that the opiate addictions in the United States are a crisis. It's really an emergency. I know that this is a very personal issue for you when you were growing up, 'cause it had a big negative impact on your family.

Tana Amen: It did, and in some ways it had a positive impact on me personally. I mean, I certainly didn't think of it that way. But, you know what happens to you shapes you in so many ways. The experiences shape you in so many ways, and I later told my uncle who was a heroin addict, who just ... The chaos in our family was crazy. It was crazy. When you have an addict in your family, it makes life very difficult. I told him much later as an adult, when I was finally able to move out and create some peace in my life, I thanked him. I said, "You are the reason that I never did drugs." You can look at it either way you want.

But as a child, it was hard. It was really hard. I just made the choice that I was going to find some way to find something positive in it.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Well, and there are pleasure centers in the brain. There are a number of areas in the brain that respond to the neurotransmitter dopamine. One is called the, "Nucleus Accumbens." The other are the, "Caudate nuclei," and the, "Basal ganglia." Another part called the, "Substantia nigra." When you dump dopamine, people feel awesome. They feel amazing. The problem with addictions is, it wears them out. Then you need more and more of that substance in order to feel anything at all.

Tana Amen: So I have a question, because addictions come in so many forms, okay? The word addiction, and the concept is so broad. I mean, you say I am an exercise addict, and I am probably. Or like, I know for me, karate does that. That little dopamine dump, right? I love to go hit stuff, there's nothing more fun for me than to go hit pads when I'm frustrated, when I'm angry. It is that dopamine rush for me, to go just get it out, because it's a fast paced, exciting thing I do. But why, for some people, is that the thing they turn to? Like something like exercise, or karate, or fast cars, or whatever it is, pornography. Whereas for other people, it becomes drugs, or alcohol, or something far more destructive?

Dr. Daniel Amen: Well you know, the things I learned, if you're going to talk about addiction rescue, is you first have to understand why people use.

Tana Amen: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Daniel Amen: And like you said, what did they use. But first, let's just talk about, so-

Tana Amen: I'm curious how that template gets started, so let's come back to that at some point.

Dr. Daniel Amen: ... It's really important, but we have to understand the system. I'm actually working on a book for next year, called, "Success Starts Here." There's a chapter on pleasure and purpose, because when people are purposeful, there's a reason. I mean, we do this podcast because it brings us pleasure.

Tana Amen: Right.

Dr. Daniel Amen: It is part of our purpose in life, and that drips dopamine onto our pleasure senors.

Tana Amen: Yeah, every time I get one of those testimonials, right.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Right, but there's a difference between dripping, and pouring. When you pour dopamine from pornography, or from cocaine, or from heroin, it has such a powerful effect. But the problem is, when the neurons pour it out, there's nothing left. After the hit of cocaine-

Tana Amen: So too much of it at once burns them out?

Dr. Daniel Amen: ... Too much of it a once ends up burning it out, and then cocaine addicts, or heroin addicts, most of them don't do it because it's fun. They did initially, because of the great feeling. Most of them do it so they don't feel-

Tana Amen: Abnormal.

Dr. Daniel Amen: ... Terribly depressed.

Tana Amen: Right.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Because it's like-

Tana Amen: So now it's their normal.

Dr. Daniel Amen: ... Now it's their normal, to have the Nucleus Accumbens-

Tana Amen: 'Cause now I have two questions.

Dr. Daniel Amen: ... Raining dopamine.

Tana Amen: But now I have two questions. One is the template, why do some people find that same pleasure from things that are healthier, versus someone who has to have something as extreme as heroin? The other one now, is why do some people, why can someone have a glass of wine and hate that feeling when they start to lose control, or when it starts to feel like too much, like one glass is enough. And not only is it enough, but they don't want to go too far. Whereas another person must have more, and can't stop?

Dr. Daniel Amen: So, for alcohol in particular, one of the theories is that ... So me, and I don't really like drinking. I get nothing out of drinking. That my body processes alcohol to water and vinegar. For people who have the genetic vulnerability to alcoholism, they process it to water, vinegar, and a substance called, "Thio Quinoline," that actually works on the heroin or morphine centers-

Tana Amen: Ah, so more so than the person who doesn't like that feeling.

Dr. Daniel Amen: ... of the brain. Right, so clearly there is a genetic vulnerability. My first wife, her dad was an alcoholic. Four of his five brothers were alcoholics, and the only one that wasn't, was in a wheelchair from an accident, and he just couldn't get to the booze. Growing up, I told my children, "If you never drink, you're never going to have a problem. But if you drink, you might have a severe problem, because you're loaded genetically, for the vulnerability to substance abuse." Genes are really important. And on this show, and in our work, we always talk about the four circles, right? You want to understand addictions, you have to understands there's a biological part to that, there's a psychological part, which I have a very interesting thing I want to talk about.

A social part, who do you hang out with? If you hang out with drug addicts, you're more likely to be a drug addict. If you hangout with porn stars, you're more likely to get involved in pornography.

Tana Amen: Sure.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Who you spend time with does really matter. And then there's a spiritual circle, and isn't it interesting, most of the successful treatments for addiction have a spiritual component. I have lost control, I am powerless, and I require a higher power.

Tana Amen: Something larger than myself.

Dr. Daniel Amen: In order to stay well. Just thinking of the biology a little bit, think of the nucleus Accumbens, we are wearing out our pleasure centers as a society.

Tana Amen: Right, technology.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Our phones, video games, how television has changed. It's that constant need for excitement, and stimulation.

Tana Amen: You know, when Chloe and I went to the mountains together, it was a really good point for us. We went to the mountains, and she's like, "I'm looking forward to just having no technology for the next three days. None, zero. No TV's, no phones, no nothing. No internet." It was, I thought it was great that a teenager would say that, but for us it was such an amazing bonding experience. Believe me, there was plenty of stimulation, right? We were working really hard. We had to work really hard together, because it was a survival class. It was really hard work, and by the end of the three days, we were so bonded, and we were so relaxed. Well, we were exhausted. But, we were relaxed, and we were bonded together, and we had created this ... We had done this project together.

We have lost that, sort of as a society. Don't you think?

Dr. Daniel Amen: Well you know, and you can just see it at a restaurant, or walking down fifth avenue. People have their faces buried in their phones. And technology purposefully-

Tana Amen: Hooks you.

Dr. Daniel Amen: ... Hires neuroscientists to hook you. There's actually a book on this called, "Hooked." How technology companies cause gadget addictions. There's a professor, we talked about this in The Brain Warriors Way, in our book.

Tana Amen: Yeah.

Dr. Daniel Amen: That, from Georgia State University said that, "Technology, and cellphones, and video games, and computers are really the cigarettes of the 21st century." Let's just talk a minute about, well what will activate your pleasure centers in a positive way-

Tana Amen: So like exercise.

Dr. Daniel Amen: ... Or, a negative way.

Tana Amen: Like heroin.

Dr. Daniel Amen: In a positive way, it's meaning and purpose. Doing this, it makes us happy. When we go out often someone will come up to us and say, "I love your shows, I love your books, I've been to your clinics."

Tana Amen: Yeah, or like Angie even on Facebook, if I'm going to use technology. For me, if I use technology, that's really the only thing I do, is coaching people. I don't sit there, I have no idea what's going on, on Facebook, other than coaching people. Like Angie, over a year, lost 103 pounds, and stayed in touch with me. That for me, pushes on that pleasure center.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Right, I mean totally. And that probably dumped some dopamine.

Tana Amen: Huge, yeah.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Lasting love. When I saw you in the hallway coming to do our podcast, and you're in this very pretty blue shirt or blouse. I mean you press on my pleasure centers all the time, in a positive way. Volunteering, relationships, new learning, traveling, spiritual experience, pumpkin seeds, because they increase dopamine.

Tana Amen: Dopamine, right. So protein, certain proteins.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Green tea, gratitude, appreciation, winning by striving to be your best. Losing that motivates you to practice, so that's interesting for some people.

Tana Amen: Hmm, karate, 'cause you can't do karate without falling out.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Then having digital discipline, which has been hard for me over the years. Activating your pleasure centers in a negative way. Jumping out of airplanes, 'cause it dumps dopamine. Repeatedly falling in love. There are these people that-

Tana Amen: Are addicted to the drama.

Dr. Daniel Amen: ... Fall, they're addicted to the drama of being in love, and then out of love. In love, and out of love.

Tana Amen: Ah, that just sounds terrible.

Dr. Daniel Amen: High risk sports, like helicopter skiing. Having marital affairs. That clandestine, doing something wrong, the fear of being caught. I've had people that were clearly addicted to that. One guy I treated, got married 11 times. As a psychiatrist, I always try to reframe things in a positive way.

Tana Amen: That sounds expensive, that just sounds expensive.

Dr. Daniel Amen: I said, "You're really good at getting the chicks. Excessive video games, pornography, cocaine, methamphetamine, alcohol.

Tana Amen: Yeah, I'm sorry. I have to jump in on that 11 marital ... See, I do, I'm a pessimist, I admit it. I'd be like, "You're really good at losing money, 'cause that's just crazy. What?"

Dr. Daniel Amen: Substances, also fame. It's weird. And it works on your pleasure centers-

Tana Amen: It's funny, I don't always like it.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Initially. But then over time, it can wear them out, and it's one of the reasons why you see actors, and athletes-

Tana Amen: So we certainly don't ... I mean, we don't have this huge level of fame. But, the little bit of as public figures when we're out and people recognize us and whatever, you handle it very ... You're just very sort of even keeled, and if anything, you enjoy the little bit of people coming up to you, and talking to you. I like people telling me their results, but I actually get weirded out by it sometimes, huh? I like, for me, I kind of hide from the recognition.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Well, but do you remember when it first started to happen to me?

Tana Amen: Oh, I did not like it.

Dr. Daniel Amen: No, when it first started happening-

Tana Amen: Oh, yeah. I was like ... Yeah.

Dr. Daniel Amen: ... I would get really shy.

Tana Amen: And I'm like, "You have to stop that. You have to practice a line until you get comfortable with it, 'cause people think you are arrogant if you do that. Yeah, no, it takes practice to learn how to handle it. I just-

Dr. Daniel Amen: Yeah, and I just didn't know what to say.

Tana Amen: ... Right, I get weirded out. I like helping people, but I don't really like recognition.

Dr. Daniel Amen: So fame will wear out your pleasure centers.

Tana Amen: Yeah.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Winning, where you hurt others. Notice, winning where you're striving to be your best is good for your pleasure centers. Winning where you're dominating other people, is not good.

Tana Amen: Hmm, interesting.

Dr. Daniel Amen: 'Cause it ends up wearing it out. Losing where you lose and then you go, "How can I be better?" The, "How can I be better?" Is good for your pleasure centers. The losing, which then causes you emotional pain, is bad for them. There's some people, they actually looked at people playing games. Some people who won ... I'm sorry. Some people who lost, it actually activated their pleasure centers. They're like, "I can do this. I can beat this." There are other people, when they lost, it activated the pain centers in their brain.

Tana Amen: Oh, interesting.

Dr. Daniel Amen: And so they avoided it. They wouldn't do it at all. It's how do you deal with losing. Does it motivate you more-

Tana Amen: Some people feel defeated, and some people feel challenged.

Dr. Daniel Amen: ... Right. And some people go, "Oh, I would never do that."

Tana Amen: Right.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Undisciplined digital behavior wears out your pleasure centers, as do scary movies. You have experience with that.

Tana Amen: Don't like them.

Dr. Daniel Amen: No, when-

Tana Amen: I like movies about justice.

Dr. Daniel Amen: ... You were a little girl, your ADD mom took you to them.

Tana Amen: Yeah.

Dr. Daniel Amen: That's what happens, you know? All these behaviors that wear out your pleasure centers, they actually are more common.

Tana Amen: And funny, I grew up in a chaotic, and I grew up in a chaotic environment. I like movies about justice. I'm like, "The good guy has to win."

Dr. Daniel Amen: And gossiping will wear out your pleasure centers in a negative way. It's critical, if you want to rescue your brain, you first have to take care of it. Take care of your pleasure centers, avoid things that dump dopamine, do things that sort of drip dopamine.

Tana Amen: But I think if someone is really suffering, or knows someone suffering, 'cause we do have a lot of experience with this personally. Not just in our clinics. I mean, thousands of people a month. But, personally. It's easy to say when it's somebody that's a patient and you're not personally connected to it. But I gotta tell ya, when it's personal to you, it feels out of control if it's in your life at all, even if it's not you personally. Sometimes it feels more out of control when you can't do anything, it's someone you love.

Getting assessed, and getting the right help just makes all the difference in the world. I'd strongly suggest you reach out to some professional, and get that help. If you surround someone with the services, and the support. I mean personally, I've seen miracles happen, and in our own family. I just think this is really important-

Dr. Daniel Amen: Well stay with us, and when we come back, we're actually going to talk about six different types of addicts, and how important it is to know about your brain. That is definitely part of addiction rescue.

Tana Amen: We're also going to talk about food, and supplements that help to heal.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Stay with us.

Thank you for listening to The Brain Warriors Way Podcast. Go to iTunes and leave a review, and you'll automatically be entered into a drawing to get a free, signed copy of The Brain Warriors Way, and The Brain Warriors Way Cookbook, we give away every month.