By Kathy Kukula

(Photo: DIMITRI LUNDT/CORBIS)

If you've ever dunked a basketball, held hands with someone special, or bitten into a juicy cheeseburger, you may remember the rush of pleasurable feelings those events created. These good feelings are a key to your survival—after all, if you eat well, you'll live longer, and most of us think of eating as a pleasurable experience.

Unlike remembering, say, your history homework, you remember pleasure more quickly because of a chemical called dopamine. Dopamine works in the pleasure center in the middle of your brain—the limbic system.

Once you've had a "feel-good" experience, your brain builds a new path, like a shortcut. That's why you'll start to feel good the next time you just pick up a basketball, smell the cheeseburger, or see your crush in the hall. Your senses send signals, and the dopamine starts flowing. You've wired your brain to repeat what brings good feelings. You smile just thinking about it!

Drug abuse affects the way the brain experiences pleasure. Drugs make people "high" by invading and manipulating the brain's pleasure circuitry. They fool your brain into good feelings that are a reaction to chemicals, instead of to real experiences.

The key word is "fool." Drug abuse can damage the brain's wiring for pleasure, making it unable to function in a healthy, normal way. You can become addicted, meaning that your craving for the feeling you get from a drug will become so strong that you'll risk serious consequences to get it. And your ability to feel pleasure the old-fashioned way—the real way—may be disrupted. Good food, real accomplishments—even true love—may leave you feeling flat.



From Scholastic and the Scientists of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services