trauma bunnies

We can work it out, the song says. But no, maybe not, not always.

Trauma bunnies together. Walking. Why would you walk with me, I am so down? Oh, you are a trauma bunny too. Walking on the beach, slowing down, looking at rocks. The walks get longer and longer. You bring FOOD and tell me I have food insecurity. I laugh. But it is true.

Comparing notes about childhood. You say yours was worse. Yours was terrifying. You ran away over and over and over, but came home. Small children need food and shelter. You get older. A neighbor says if you run away now, you will never stop running. You do not run away permanently. But you still run.

My childhood has no bruises to the skin. But the bruises to the heart are a nightmare. You finally say that I win, my childhood was worse. But I was not trying to win, I want to say. I was just telling you as you’ve told me.

We have both survived damage and coped. I have the resource of a grandmother with money who paid for medical school. I apply without telling my parents, after my mother says, “You don’t want to be a doctor. It’s too much work.” I am a poet, a writer, being a doctor so I can study people and have children and be certain there is food. Job security. And food security, true. With a husband or without.

You fight school all the way, but when you are told that you will be a failure or in jail, you decide that you will prove them wrong. You are still proving it. You won’t tell how you make your money, not to the locals, but the new car every two years tells them you have money. And it’s the wrong kind of car: a liberal car for a professed conservative. It stands out.

We start playing trauma bunnies after six months. You want me to come to dinner and I turn New Yorker and direct: is this a date? You are surprised. I set the boundaries and you think about it. And say yes.

But trauma bunnies is not as much fun as the beach. We get close and intimate and then you run. When you run, I run too: the other way. I don’t chase you. You haven’t experienced that before. You keep coming back. Why aren’t I chasing you? Because I too am a trauma bunny, remember?

Back and forth: close and far, together and apart. All holidays become times when you run, so that I will not be part of the family. I announce that I am now your mistress and you can’t be with my family either. Back and forth. Closer and then you refuse to come to my son’s wedding. Far again.

You say the summer will be very busy. You say your focus is music. You say we can go to one beach. One beach? For the whole summer? I run to europe and you are surprised. I ask, are you too busy to have me around? No, you say. But when I return, you have a friend staying with you. Intimacy disappears.

I am tired of it. My daughter is here.

At last I bring up sex: are we done with that?

No, you say. We have visitors.

Wouldn’t stop me, I say.

You say, sex is still on the table. Then you hem and haw. You say sex is not important, you can take or leave it. The friendship is more important. Well, the friendship is most important, but sex IS important to me and hello, it’s damn insulting of you to say you can take or leave it. Leave. This is all triggered by your yearly family get together. You need me at a distance so you won’t be tempted to invite me. You don’t want me there so I am distanced again.

And I am done, done, done. I dream of a small child, a wild woman, a woman doctor and someone new: a quiet woman. I think about the quiet woman and I ask the other three. Yes, they say.

The quiet woman is the adult. Not the mask of the professional, not the wild defense fighter, not the small child. The small child has healed. She is the connection to the Beloved, to the source of the poems. She blesses the others. The quiet woman takes over.

The quiet woman takes over. She says goodbye, farewell, Beloved keep you and bless you, you may contact me any time.

You are in your cave alone and do not answer.

You may end up there, alone, alone, alone. You want freedom most of all, you say. Another song: freedom is another word.

Yes it is. People can change and grow. But some want to and some don’t and sometimes we don’t grow at the same time.

Yes, says the quiet woman. Sometimes we don’t grow at the same time.

Fade to quiet.

______________________________

I took the photograph from a canoe at Lake Matinenda in Ontario, Canada.

Arty’s warning

Trigger warning: non graphic mention of child abuse.

_____________________________

I don’t notice that things are frozen at first, because the cats aren’t frozen. I do notice the light. Also I notice the change in sounds. The car outside in the street is not moving nor making sound. Uh-oh.

I go to the front door. Might as well if everything is frozen. I just finished putting on make up, which always means a dangerous mood.

She lands first, on a white flying horse. Who smiles at me, showing fangs. Smoke is coming out of the Pegavamp’s nostrils. Eeeee.

Arty herself is in silver and black today. Silver cloth with black embroidery that seems to be writing a little.

“Good morning, Goddess.” I say, bowing. The other horses and dragons and flying motorcycles and pterodactyls are landing as well. Sol Duc is in the window. Elwha has gone to hide, quite sensibly, I think.

Arty stomps her staff on the ground. “I am really pissed.” she says.

“They named a rocket after you.”

“That penis toy? That is supposed to please me while they are killing virgins who refuse to tent their heads?”

“Sorry.” I hang my head.

“And do you know how much the smoke is going to shorten the lives of my birds and stags?”

“A lot, I think.”

“Do you all want to starve in the dark?’

I look up at her then. “No. I want grandchildren and a healthy earth.”

“Work harder.” she snarls. The rest of the dangerous crowd is muttering and snarling and the local cats have come out. They are sitting very respectfully at a distance. Rooftops. The ridge above my house three blocks up. The tree tops are frozen too.

“Do you need prescriptions again?” I ask. “I see that there have been a lot more rapists jailed. Thank you, Goddess.”

She looks tired for a moment. “We are hunting them everywhere: cities, countryside, hovels, palaces, movie sets, where ever.”

“You don’t turn them into stags any more?”

“Yes, sometimes. My hounds love to tear them apart. But sometimes prison is slower and crueler and a better punishment.”

I kneel. “What service can I do, Goddess?”

She touches me with the staff. I feel a hard bright shock, pain that roars through me and is gone.

“Write this. Write my warning. If this continues, it is death in the cold dark of nuclear winter and we will begin again.”

“Is that the only choice?”

“Oh, no, we are all being very creative. One suggestion has been the sperm banks. There is nothing that says they can’t be used to make one gender only. The one that rapes less and doesn’t kill young girls for what they wear.”

“Thank you for your warning.”

“Stand up.” she says. “You and every abused child, male or female, are under my protection. Yet the cycle must be broken and the abused must not become abusers. Write this.”

The Pegavamp drops one knee and she steps up easily. The other riders start to roar and shout and howl. Her winged creature jumps in the air and the whole group follows. There is a snap and they are gone.

The car in the street is moving and the treetops as well. The cats stand and move away.

I keep writing.

___________________

October 22, 2022

Embodying a dream

I wrote about the two dreams I had one night, with seven people. Two babies, a boy and a girl. Two professionals, a woman physician and a male policeman. Two rebels, a woman and a man, the man lying or at least misleading the rebel woman. The rebel woman trying to do something that she suddenly realizes is not important and is, in fact, foolish and dangerous. And a quiet woman.

I have been thinking about the quiet woman ever since. My Meyers-Briggs type in medical school came out INTJ, but we are not one thing or another. We have preferences, but we all have to use all the skills. I can be extroverted. I had to work on feeling, that was the really difficult one for me after a frightening childhood. I can pay attention to facts though I sweep them into the intuition very quickly. Medical school is facts and facts and facts, except then there are parts that turn out to change as science changes.

The eighth person is a quiet man. He is not present in the dream. I am thinking about him. I wonder if I will have another dream when I am ready.

I am attending some workshops on line for treating trauma. It is quite fascinating. They talk about working with clients who have aspects like my dream: a small child with trauma. A “fake adult”, aka “adaptive child”, with the tools that the child develops to survive in their childhood. Helping the “fake adult” recognize that some of coping tools may not be helpful or necessary any longer. First, they thank the “fake adult”, for protecting the traumatized child and for surviving at all and for not giving up. I think this is so important, to acknowledge that we have to thank that part of ourselves that did what it had to, that did what it could, to survive. And this can include things that we are ashamed of or fear that others would hate us for if found out. We had a temporary doctor at the hospital who described being a boat person escaping Vietnam at age 8. They were picked up by pirates. “We were glad to see the pirates, because we had run out of water. If the pirates had not picked us up, we would have died.” So there is perspective: death by dehydration or pirates? And she went from a refugee camp and then through medical school and became a physician. Survival and success and I hope that she is thriving.

I like it when a dream has such recognizable symbols. My now retired Unitarian Universalist minister says that we can sit with dreams for a time. What do the symbols mean to me? What is the dream telling me? My dream is in part telling me that I do not need to have the rebel woman lead: she can rest and let the quiet woman take over. And that I am very tired of rebel men who mislead me or run away. I woke up and thought, oh, yes, I see! I am tired of that and ready for change.

Change and transformation can happen throughout our lives, at any age. I welcome it.

Blessings and peace you.

___________________

The photograph is Sol Duc and Elwha enjoying doll bunkbeds. And acting like siblings do sometimes. And then they curl up together.

Arty scores some ludes

Trigger warning: non graphic mentions of date rape, child abuse. A dark story for the Halloween season.

_______________________________

Mr. Smith is telling me about his daughter’s addiction to meth when the commotion starts.

He doesn’t seem to notice. I ignore sirens because the fire house is 6 blocks up the street, but I hear hooves. And people in the waiting room. Loud.

And Mr. Smith…. appears to be frozen mid-sentence. Uh-oh.

I am not frozen. I open the exam room door.

Artemis is there. Breastplate, feather headdress, inlaid turkish recurve bow, and she is not wearing a lady like toga. She is wearing armour. She is grinning at me.

There are lots of people milling around the exam room. Horses outside. I suspect 200. Or more.

“Quaaludes.” says Artemis.

“Ok.” I say. “Um.” I am thinking about the DEA. I get my paper prescription pad. Controlled substance, of course.

“We’re going to do a little pillaging.” says Artemis. “Kind of like date rape. Only in reverse.”

“Happy to help.” I say. “Uh, Bill?”

Artemis grins. “Well, he’s not the only one. You’d… well, you probably wouldn’t be surprised, would you.”

“No,” I say grimly. There are men in the waiting room too. That’s a bit of a surprise. I know two of them. Attended their funerals. Aids.

“I need enough for all 200 to…. well, discourage date rape and Cosbying.”

“So 600? Or 1000?” The DEA will throw me in jail. I write the prescription. Artemis touches it and it blooms in her hand, to 200 prescriptions.

“Don’t worry. The pharmacy is in Hades. The earthly DEA won’t have a problem.”

My receptionist is frozen too. I nod towards Artemis’s band. “I thought it was virgins?”

“We were all virgins once,” says Artemis, fierce. I can’t argue with that. She smiles again. “Thank you. We are going to have some fun. Sweet sweet revenge.”

I don’t really want details. My imagination is way too active. “Blessings.” I say.

“You too.” She turns, holding up the prescriptions. “Mount up!” Two women are riding velociraptors. Some of the horses have wings and other have horns. Three glow red and breathe fire. Some people are riding stags. They all have bows.

“You do need a bow.” says Artemis, looking back at me. “You’re a good shot.”

“Ok,” I say. I watch them leave in the air. The air starts looking a little thick and I go back in the room with Mr. Smith. I return to my position as best I can remember and then…

Mr. Smith is talking again.

__________________________

First posted elsewhere 2015.

My mom loved me

I struggled after my mother died of ovarian cancer in 2000. She was 61 and our love was complicated. Two years after she died I hit an emotional wall and had to go find help. My marriage was showing cracks too. I have written about Adverse Childhood Experiences, but there can be love too, even in a difficult household. I wrote this poem during that time.

My mom loved me

It’s herself she didn’t love
She didn’t love her anger
She didn’t love her fear
She didn’t love her sorrow
She didn’t love her shadows

She packed all her troubles in her saddlebags
and rode forth singing

When I was angry
she felt her anger
When I was scared
she felt her fear
When I was sad
she felt her sorrow
When I felt my shadows
she felt hers
I hid my shadows

I hid my shadows for many years
and then my saddlebags were full
They called me

I dove in the sea
I rescued my anger
I rescued my fear
I rescued my sorrows
I rescued my shadows

At first I couldn’t love them
My mom didn’t; how could I?

But I loved my mom
I loved all of her
Her anger
Her fear
Her sorrow
Her shadows
Her singing and courage

I thought if I could love her shadows
I could love my own

It was hard
It took months
I looked in the mirror at my own face
And slowly I was able to have
Compassion for myself

I am sad that my mom is not
where I can touch her warmth
and tell her I love all of her

I tell her anyway

I’m finding many things as I surface from my dive
Sometimes I feel the presence of angels
I was looking for something else
I found a valentine
that she made me
No date
Many hearts cut out and glued
to red paper

I am so surprised

My mom loves me
shadows and all
now and forever.

__________________________

My mother used to quote “Pack all your troubles in your saddlebags and ride forth singing.” Does anyone know where this if from? I have not found the source. It could be her mother or her mother’s parents.

The photograph is my father, the year my sister died of cancer, 2012. He died in 2013.

Practicing Conflict

An essay from my church talks about the writer avoiding conflict, fearing conflict and disliking conflict. This interests me, because I do not avoid conflict, I don’t fear conflict and actually, I like it. Our emeritus minister once did a sermon in which he said that when you are thinking about two conflicting things at once, that is grace. I have thought about his words many times, especially when I am not in agreement about something.

Does this interest in conflict mean I fight all the time? Well, sort of, but not in the way you think. I don’t fight with other people much. I fight myself.

What? No, really. Most topics have multiple sides. Not one, not two, but many. Like a dodecahedron or a cut gem. Hold it up to the light, twelve sides, each different. I argue the different sides with myself.

I learned this from my parents. My parents would disagree about something, they would discuss or argue about it, and then they would bet. Sometimes they bet a penny, sometimes a quarter, sometimes one million dollars. Then one of them would get up and get the Oxford English Dictionary, or the World Atlas, or some other reference and look it up. This was pre-internet, ok? 1970s and 1980s.

Sometimes my parents would even pay each other. The penny or quarter. My father spoke terrible French and my mother had lived in Paris for a year after high school, so he could get her going by insisting that his French was correct. It wasn’t. Ever.

There were other arguments in the middle of the night that were not friendly and involved yelling, but the daytime disagreements were funny and they would both laugh.

Once my sister is visiting after my mother has died. My father is present. My father, sister and I get in a three way disagreement about physics. I’m a physician, my sister was a Landscape Architect and my father was a mathematician/engineer, so we are all three talking through our hats. However, we happily argue our positions. Afterwards, my gentleman friend says, “That was weird.” “What?” I ask. “That was competitive and you were all arguing.” “It was a discussion and we disagreed.” “I won’t compete.” “We let my dad win, because it makes him happy.” “That was weird.” “Ok, whatever.”

My gentleman friend is also shocked when my teen son challenges me at dinner. My son says, “I am researching marijuana and driving for school and there isn’t much evidence that it impairs driving.”  I reply, “Well, there is not as easy a test as an alcohol test and it was illegal, so it has not been studied.” We were off and having a discussion.

Afterwards my gentleman friend says, “I am amazed by your son bringing that up. We weren’t allowed to discuss anything like that at dinner.” I say, “We pretty much discuss anything at dinner and both my kids are allowed to try to change my mind. About going to a party or whatever.” He shakes his head. “That is really different.” “Ok,” I say.

This habit of challenging authority, including adults, did not go over well when my son was an exchange student to Thailand. It did not occur to me to talk to him about it. He figured it out pretty quickly.

Back to my internal arguments. If I take a position, I almost immediately challenge it. I think of it as the old cartoons, with the angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other. The devil will make fun of things and suggest revenges and generally behave really badly. The angel will rouse and say, “Hey, you aren’t being nice.” Then they fight. The internal battle very quickly becomes comic with the two of them trading insults and bringing up past fights and fighting unfairly. When it makes me laugh inside, I can also be over the driver who cut me off, or someone who spoke nastily, or whatever. My devil is very very creative about suggested revenges. When the angel says, “You are meaner than the person who cut you off!” I am over it.

When I was little and disagreeing with my family, my sister could tell. “You have your stone face on!” That meant I was attempting to hide a feeling, especially fear or anger or grief. Siblings and family are the most difficult because they can read us and see through us like glass. My physician training also teaches control of feelings. I have sometimes wanted to grab a patient and scream “Why are you doing this to yourself?” but that really is not part of the doctor persona. I am doing it inside, but I can put it aside until later. Then the devil goes to town! And the angel tries to calm the devil down.

Maybe we all need more of this skill. Pick a mildly controversial topic. Argue one side of it. Then switch positions and argue the other side. Go back and forth until it gets ridiculous. Let each side get unreasonable and inflammatory and annoying. This can play in your head and not on your face. Once you can do a mild topic, move on to something a bit more difficult. If you only know the arguments on your side, read. You can find the other side, the internet is huge. Start gently.

A friend says, “You always argue about things.” I say, “I prefer to think of it as a discussion.” “You always take the other side.” “Well, it interests me. And if there is no one to discuss something with, I discuss it with myself!” “Weirdo,” says the friend. I think he’s jealous, really I do. Don’t you?

Adverse Childhood Experiences 14: Hope

I keep reading bits about despair and about how a generation of children is being “ruined” by the pandemic.

Not so, I say. There is hope. We need to support each other to survive and then to thrive.

This generation WILL have a higher than average ACE score. If the Adverse Childhood Experience scale is from zero to eight, children in this time period will have at least one higher point than average and many will have three or four or more. Loss of a parent, a sibling, beloved grandparents during covid. Increases in domestic violence, child abuse and addiction. These are all part of the ACE score.

What does this do to children? They have survival brain wiring. They will do their best to survive what is happening. A friend and I both have high ACE scores, 5 or more, and we are both oppositional defiant. We showed this in different ways. He grew up in the same community. He escaped from home and knew all the neighbors. He walked to the local church and attended at age 3 or 4. He has lived in this community all his life.

His oppositional defiance showed up at home, where he consistently refused to obey. And in school, where he confounded and disobeyed teachers and passed anyhow.

My family moved every 1-5 years. I hated moving. I wouldn’t talk to kids in a new school for a year. It was very difficult. So my oppositional defiance was very very internal. I hid in books and in my head. In 6th grade I got in trouble for hiding novels inside the school book I’d already read. I also would just not listen and my respect for the teacher got even lower when she would be angry that I knew the answer to the question once she’d repeated it. I wasn’t listening because I was bored. She was the first teacher that I thought, well, she is not very bright. The next year they stuck me in the honors class and I stopped being bored, though I still questioned practically every opinion every teacher had. I wanted evidence and I did not believe it just because the teacher said it.

I am not saying that oppositional defiance is in every high ACE score. I don’t know that. Why oppositional defiance? Imagine you are a small child and you are beaten. There isn’t rhyme or reason. You can’t predict when the adult will be out of control. Why would you behave “well” if it makes no difference? You might as well do what you want, because nothing you do will change the adult. Or imagine you are a small child who is with one person, passed to another, then to another. You may not exactly trust adults after two or three repetitions. And you want to survive.

There is an increase in addictions, behavioral health diagnoses, and chronic illness in adults with a high ACE score. A researcher when I first heard a lecture about it said, “We think perhaps that addiction is a form of self medication.” I thought, oh, my gosh, how are we ever going to treat THIS? Well, we have to figure that out now, and we’ve had 30 years to work on it.

I was very comfortable with the oppositional defiant patients in clinic. I got very good at not arguing with them and not taking their behavior personally. They might show up all spiky and hostile and I might be a little spiky and gruff back: sometimes that was enough. I think the high ACE score people often recognize each other at some level, though not always a conscious one. With some people I might bring up ACE scores and ask about their childhood. Sometimes they wanted to discuss it. Sometimes they didn’t. Either was ok.

One thing we should NOT do is insist that everyone be “nice”. We had a temporary doctor who told us her story. Her family escaped Southeast Asia in a boat. They had run out of water and were going to die when they were found by pirates. The pirates gave them water. They made it to land and were in a refugee camp for eight years or so. She eventually made it to the US. She was deemed too “undiplomatic” for our rural hospital. I wondered if people would have said that if they knew her history and what she had been through. It’s not exactly a Leave it to Beaver childhood, is it? When she was telling us about nearly dying of thirst in the boat, my daughter left her chair and climbed on my lap. She was under ten and understood that this was a true and very frightening story.

We can support this generation of children. This has been and is still being Adverse Experiences for adults as well. Family deaths, job loss, failure of jobs to support people, inflation. Remember the 1920s, after World War I and the last pandemic, of influenza. “On October 28, 1919, Congress passed the National Prohibition Act, also known as the Volstead Act, which provided enabling legislation to implement the 18th Amendment.” (wikipedia). There were forces trying to legislate behavior, as there are now. The result in 1920s of making alcohol illegal was speakeasies, illegal alcohol, and violence. Some people acted wild after WWI and the influenza pandemic and some people tried to lock down control, by controlling other peoples’ behavior. It did not work then and it will not work now. The wildness is out of control grief, I think, grief dysfunctional and drinking and shooting and doing anything and everything, legal or not. We remember how the 1920s ended too. Let us not repeat that. Let us mourn and grieve and support each other and support each other’s decisions and autonomy.

Blessings.

Adverse Childhood Experiences 13: on gratitude

I saw a meme today about gratitude. It is saying that some people look at a garden and see thorns and weeds, but others see the roses. That we need to have gratitude. I think this is simplistic and papers over the trauma and grief that some people have. If they have endured a highly traumatic childhood, who am I to say they should focus on the roses? They may have a very good reason to see if there is something like a thorn that can hurt them before enjoying the roses.

I work with many patients with high Adverse Childhood Experience scores and mine is high too. I don’t tell my patients that they should have gratitude. I tell them “You survived your childhood. You have crisis wiring. Good for you. Some of your learned crisis survival wiring may not serve you as well now as it did when you were a child.” Then we discuss whether they want to work on any aspects and the many many different approaches. One example: a man who sleeps very lightly. He said that it was lifelong. When asked about his childhood he says, “We would have to leave in the night when there was shooting in my neighborhood. It was a very dangerous area.” I said, “I am not surprised you sleep lightly. You HAD to in childhood to survive. Is this something you want to try and change?” He thought about it and decided, no. Once it was framed as learned in childhood to survive, he stopped worrying about “normal”. He was satisfied that the way he slept was “normal” for him and he wanted to wake up if he heard shooting.

I think we have to ask why a person sees thorns and weeds in a garden before we judge them. My first thought with a new and angry or hostile patient is always, oh, they have been badly hurt in the past. What happened? I don’t worry that the anger is at me. I know it’s not at me, it’s at the system or a past physician or a past event. Under the anger there are other emotions, usually fear or humiliation or grief. I have brought up Adverse Childhood Experience scores on the first visit sometimes. One person replies, “I am a 10 out of 10.” The score only goes up to 8 but I agree. He was a 10. He stated once, “The military loved me because I could go from zero to 60 in one minute.” Very very defensive and very quick to respond. The response may seem extreme and inappropriate to other people: but it may feel like the only safe way to be to my patient.

I grew up hiding any grief or fear in my family, under anger, because grief or fear would be made into a story told for laughs. In college, a boyfriend told me I was an ogre when I was angry. I started working on it then and it was difficult to tame that. The person who took the longest was my sister: she could make me explode until I was in my residency. Medical training was excellent for learning emotional control, at least, on the surface. After my mother died, I had to do the next piece of emotional work: open the Pandora’s Box of stuffed emotions, mostly fear and grief, and let them out. It was such hard work that my day where I saw the counselor for an hour was harder than my ten hour clinic day. I did the work, for two long years. Blessings on the counselors who stood by me while I worked through it.

I do not think we are ever done with that sort of work. I think, what do I need to learn next? What is this friend teaching me? Why is this behavior frustrating me and I have to look in my inner mirror. Why, why, why?

Blessing on your healing path and may you not be judged.

Link about ACE scores: https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/aces/about.html

Sometimes I do feel like a fossil, now that I am middle aged. For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: fossil.

playing telephone

If they whisper from one end to the other, does it get garbled before it reaches the other end?

Isn’t gossip a sin?

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: chaos.

Update on Addiction 2022: Mouse Cocaine Addict Studies

Recent experiments on mice are giving us interesting information on addiction, and suggesting that l-dopa may be able to control/mitigate addiction. This lecture about how dopamine works in addiction using a mouse model (poor mice) blew me away. The mice fell into two categories: maintenance users and vulnerable addict rats. The study of the dopamine postulates a reason for the difference.

20th Annual Drug Conference Washington State from 2019

Notes from lecture 3: Paul Phillips PhD
Dopamine Neurotransmission in Substance Use Disorders: from Preclinical studies

For a long time there were no agreed upon animal models: rats don’t steal money from other rats to buy drugs. However, rats do get addicted and this can be studied.

There are features in rats, rat behavior and rat brains that might translate to humans.

1. Basic discoveries about dopamine neurotransmission in substance use disorders is discussed.
A neurotransmitter study checking every ten minutes in brain examines two areas: dorsal and ventral striatum. Dopamine is increased in the area between cells from the administration of substances “first time use” in animal models: cocaine, alcohol, methadone, cannabinoids, nicotine, amphetamine, morphine. This is the first clue re addictive drugs, whether there is an increase in dopamine intraneuronally. The endpoint is that direct effect on dopamine receptors, which has a different brain mechanism for each drug. Cocaine blocks the receptor that reuptakes the drug into the neuron. Methamphetamines and amphetamines reverse the reuptake pump, makes the receptor spit it out. Gaba neurons act to inhibit dopamine neurons, normally mu receptors on the gaba interneurons and the opioids block those. Ethanol has another mechanism of action. It changes inhibitory activity, lowering the inhibition of the gaba interneurons. Nicotine REALLY messes with multiple receptors and multiple cells, but main effect is increase of dopamine in the striatum.
Increased dopamine in human brain relates to the feeling of being high: brain PET scans show amphetamine and dopamine bound less, reduction in the binding. Subjects were substance abusers. Subjective questioning of how high they felt correlated with the amount of dopamine released on the PET scan. Methylphenidate was used in that study. Canada study: cocaine increases dopamine in human brain by PET scan.
Addiction does lead to changes in the brain, on both PET scans and functional MRIs.
PET scans measuring dopamine binding in the brain show that the baseline in brains of substance abusers differs from non-abusers. The levels of dopamine receptors is lower in the substance overuses and there is lower binding than controls: heroin, alcohol, meth, cocaine (and obesity and ADHD…..). (This has been known for opioid overuse and chronic use for a while: the brain cells withdraw receptors, so the same dose does not reduce pain because there are less receptors. The change in receptors appears to vary in different subjects. Recovery is very slow.)
The role of dopamine has been confusing. It is known that it is involved in the cue evoking cocaine “craving”, but is also involved with — satiety. This has been confusing and contradictory — what does dopamine do but also the dynamic structural signaling.

2. The animal studies demonstrate that the dopamine signals are phasic.
Rat studies measure changes in dopamine minute to minute electrochemistry for sub-second dopamine detection in vivo, which means we can measure changes in dopamine in real time. There is an identified output signature for dopamine levels, measure in 8.5 millisecond, ten measures per second.
The rats were voluntarily taking cocaine. The cocaine was available in a liquid with a light that would come on when it was available, for two hours daily. The animal presses a lever when the light cue is on and gets an infusion of drug. With the ten measures per second, the first and smaller dopamine response in the brain is before the lever is pressed. That is, there is a rise in dopamine BEFORE the rat presses the lever. If stimulated dopamine, the animal would go press the lever. Then there is a larger reward dopamine signal when the drug hits.
Dopamine is the chicken and the egg: signal to USE and signal that has ARRIVED.

3. Changes that take place with drug use
There is a signal change over time that correlation with features of addiction.
The mice had an implanted brain electrode, tinier than human hair, 7 microns, biocompatability — don’t make the brain attack it as a foreign object so rat brain keeps working. The study involves tyrosine hydroxylase, a precursor of dopamine. A food pellet response of the tyrosine remains the same at 1, 2, 6 months so can monitor substance abuse brain changes. These are cocaine addicted rats. They get cocaine via a nose poke of a button when it lights up. Pellets, not iv (they learn that faster). There are 2 ports to nose poke: active and inactive. The signal that cocaine is available and the pellet is active: a light comes on for 20s and then drug arrives. Can take again after 20sec. The rats titrate cocaine use: not continuous. They pace cocaine use, wait for it to wear off. Over time, drug use 1 hour access daily… slow increase, relatively stable.
When the access is bumped up to 6 hours access daily… rats do increase use — first of 6 hours, escalation of drug use faster — in humans development of tolerance.
With 1 hour cocaine availability, the dopamine response to the cocaine in the rat brain is lower by the 2nd and 3rd week, slowly decreases, then with 6 hours of access the loss of dopamine is very robust, happens faster, dopamine signal gets smaller every time.
Rats long access: were there individual differences? Yes, metric, nonescalated vs escalated groups so like humans. 60 escalated 40 didn’t and stayed stable. So essentially I named these “Vulnerable addict rats” and “Maintenance rats”.
Which group most motivated to take cocaine? The study ups the price of cocaine for rats, how many times are you willing to receive the drug? The escalating animals made more responses, “worked harder” for the drug. The escalator brains, Vulnerable Addict Rats, had just about a complete loss of dopamine signal by three weeks.
The nonescalators had more stable dopamine responses, retained some dopamine brain function.
The greater the loss of dopamine, the more the animal escalates the drug use.
The Vulnerable Addict rats would use cocaine to the exclusion of food, water, sex and sleep and died early.
This is a feedback loop. The rats get a success signal when the drug is taken — but over time don’t get the success signal because dopamine receptors are gone — so take more. In the Vulnerable Addict escalators, the dopamine signal of anticipation goes down in response to the cue, the drug effect takes a little longer but the pharmacological response to drug actually remains.
They tried giving l-dopa, a parkinson’s drug and if treat, the rats get a restoration of the dopamine cue — pharmacological response didn’t change — how does this affect behavior? A daily shot of l-dopa and the animals on the l-dopa have less escalation. (wow!) The l-dopa didn’t affect the nonescalators/maintenance rats. When they remove the l-dopa in the vulnerable addict rats, the animals jump to higher use and so the brain changes are happening even when it is masked by the l-dopa but does not stop the brain changes.
They ask the question: can you reverse escalation? With the the l-dopa, they use less.
Dopamine signaling to take drugs (the anticipation cue when the light goes on) decreases in animals that escalate drug taking, but does not change in animals with stable drug taking.
Restoring dopamine signaling with l-dopa can prevent or reverse escalated drug taking.
This dopamine signaling….

4. Mechanisms — drug cue elicits dopamine.
So this is about triggers. This is a paired drug cue: the light signals that the drug is available. If a non-contingent drug given to animal, the light still elicits drug seeking. Using a naive animal: pair reward with cue, over time the cue will increase dopamine.
(hmm. Facebook. blogging. Instagram. “You have mail”. )
The initial addiction has a short access time. One hour out of 24. When this is changed to long access, some animals escalate vs non escalation — as take more and more drug, the response to the drug taking cue gets larger in the escalators/Vulnerable Addicts. Presentation of cue — by investigator vs animal:
If elicits drug seeking than the dopamine response gets larger to the cue over time.
If the cue is given but other choices of liquid, then the dopamine response gets smaller in some rats — so terminating drug seeking. The Vulnerable Addict Rats had a larger and larger dopamine craving cue spike, the longer they were off the drug. The the increase in the cue drives craving and decrease drives seeking — so both bad.
The conclusion in the rats is that craving for drug, related to cues, is dependent to length of time off drug. The longer the rats were off the drug, the larger the dopamine spike when the cue light comes on. The measure of cue behavior gets worse …. 60 day study in rats, this is not physiological withdrawal, is prolonged way beyond the withdrawal.
1. noncontingent
wait a day or wait a month
work harder to get drug, harder a month out
reaction to drug cue presentation, enhanced over time
at start of drug small signal to drug cue
long access then cue gets bigger
same a day after stop drug
but huge in a month after no drug — huge dopamine response

(my thought was then swearing. how do we treat this?)
In chronic drug use the cue signal shrinks which reinforces drug use AND stopping increases the cue response which ALSO reinforces.

5. Implications for treatment
treating rats
They discuss a virus with promotor that affects dopamine cells, light activated ion channel, cells release dopamine when light stimulated
only activates release of dopamine, to understand mechanisms.
For the self administered nose cue …. In the nonescalator maintenence rats, dopamine cue response stays fairly robust, stimulate those cells and no change.
In the escalator/vulnerable addict rats… if do a virus stimulation of dopamine in the brain, more dopamine to cue boosted, so they use less cocaine and look like the non-escalators.
5th cue less dopamine than 1st cue: if put dopamine back then maintains the drug seeking.

What underlies the decrease in dopamine release?
When the animals use cocaine, dynorphin goes up (kappa antagonist).
They injected a kappa receptor blocker — animal no longer escalate (not in humans at this time, don’t understand well enough) treating animals that are escalating, so the bad addict/vulnerable rats.
Most animals don’t escalate — but pretty serious amounts of drug cocaine so not abstinent.

For future
Dopamine diametric changes: dopamine may reduce consumption but might increase craving, so it is difficult to treat.
l-dopa — treatment — some studies, looking for abstinence, does NOT produce abstinence. Does not make abstinence worse. Says that promise seen relates to the status of the subject — helps with people who are still using (some) but doesn’t help increase or prolong abstinence. So could reduce harm but not abstinent….politically unpopular. Happier with turning alcoholic into a social alcohol user, but that idea is less popular/politically ok with cocaine/opioids (and especially meth).

They are studying mouse nosepokes for alcohol — reduced intake when the rats are on l-dopa.

There is a functional agonist for kappa receptors == buprenorphine, might have effects on drug consumption, speculation across different drugs.

Dynorphin is a stress related peptide, so does that signaling produce escalation of drug taking? So other stress drugs — like corisol, CRF, plan for more studies.

Question: Stress related hormones– babies in stress in utero and in stressful childhood have less dopamine receptors and need more dopamine for pleasure, susceptibility to drug addiction (ACE scores) so is still really early studying neurotransmitters.

Dr. Question: why do people do better with agonist therapy than abstinence in opioids vs other drugs? Answer: we don’t know….. yet.

further information:
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1920543/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC80880/
https://archives.drugabuse.gov/news-events/nida-notes/2017/03/impacts-drugs-neurotransmission
https://nida.nih.gov/