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Dopamine for Dummies – Understanding Dr. Kenneth Blum and the Reward Deficiency Syndrome

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Dopamine for Dummies – Understanding Dr. Kenneth Blum and the Reward Deficiency Syndrome

Dr. Kenneth Blum.jpgDr. Kenneth Blum, PhD, the internationally recognized authority and researcher on neuropsychopharmacology and genetics, came to lunch the other day with his colleague Dr. Roger Waite.  Here is what Dr. Blum had to say about our program:

“I am very impressed at what you have been able to accomplish. Especially in the non-pharmaceutical and non-nutraceutical arenas (diet, nutritional supplements and breathing techniques).  Everything you have follows the Dopamine Agonist Modus Operandi.  Your treatment program builds dopamine levels.   Your low-glycemic lunch was out of this world…You have what is really going to turn a person’s life around. That includes, and that is, a lifestyle change — and more importantly — an easy program that an individual can follow for the rest of their life.”

Now coming from Dr. Blum, who has near icon status at the Malibu Beach Recovery Center™, this is BIG.   I have long known that the holistic component of the Malibu Beach Recovery Center System for Treating Addiction™ is an outgrowth in great measure of Dr. Blum’s many years of breakthrough research into the relation between genetics and addiction and to his discovery of the “Reward Deficiency Syndrome.”  Most addicts he has studied have chronically low dopamine levels.  Our combination of diet, yoga breath work, and food supplements was specifically designed to help our clients raise their dopamine levels and re-balance their brain chemistry, enabling them to once again feel happy and get pleasure from something other than seeking and using their drug of choice.

I barely passed “Physics for Poets,” a class offered by UC Berkeley to help liberal arts majors fulfill General Education science requirements. So, to write this important blog about Dr. Blum’s visit to the Malibu Beach Recovery Center, I had to spend a lot of time on Google, on Dr. Blum’s website and talking to Dr. Waite.  Here is the result, which I have dubbed “Dopamine for Dummies.”  I hope no one will be offended.

Dr. Blum, who has devoted his life to studying the relationship between genetics and addiction, is credited with co-discovering the so-called “alcoholic gene” in 1990.  That was the year he authored with Dr. Ernest Noble, former director of the NIH’s National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) and researcher from UCLA, a study published in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association, which found correlations between the Dopamine D2 Receptor Taq 1 A1 allele (a gene) and alcoholism.

Dopamine is sometimes called “the reward chemical,” the “pleasure molecule,” and the “anti-stress” molecule. It is the primary neurotransmitter found in the brain that is responsible for happiness and other emotions.  It is essential for the normal functioning of the central nervous system. Dopamine provides feelings of enjoyment and reinforcement that motivate a person proactively to “feel good.”

Several years after discovering the “alcoholic gene,” additional studies led Dr. Blum and others to conclude that it was a misnomer and there is, in fact, no such thing as a “single” alcoholic gene.  Dr. Blum came to believe that the genetic anomaly previously found in alcoholics is also present in drug addicts and other people with compulsive or impulsive disorders, including overeating and obesity, attention-deficit disorder, pathological gambling and many more.  He has since clarified that this gene is more accurately defined as the “reward gene.” To date there are over 2,866 published peer reviewed articles claiming that the Dopamine D2 receptor gene is associated with addiction and reward dependence behaviors.

In 1995, Dr. Blum defined the condition that occurs when genes do not work together as a cohesive unit as a “Reward Deficiency Syndrome.”  He hopes that this condition will one day be recognized officially as a disease.  His evidence indicates that over 1/3 of the U.S. population has some form of Reward Deficiency Syndrome, and that genetic factors account for between 40 and 60 percent of a person’s vulnerability to addiction, including the effects of environment on gene expression and function.

The Brain.jpgIn a healthy person, Dopamine and other neurotransmitters  “cascade” like water cascading from one pool to another in a waterfall.  One neurotransmitter flows into an area of the brain and triggers release of another neurotransmitter.  The flow begins with Serotonin.  When it is released in the hypothalamus area of the brain, Enkephalins are released and initiate the transmission of GABA, which acts like a traffic cop.  GABA is important as it fine tunes the release of Dopamine.  GABA allows just enough dopamine to be released to provide reward, comfort, and pleasure from ordinary activities and a degree of calming to fight off unwanted stress. People who suffer from Reward Deficiency Syndrome cannot cope with the accompanying angst, agitation and emotional pain.  Their brains are unable to produce enough Dopamine, Serotonin, Norepinephrine, and Endorphins.

When levels of these “feel good” chemicals are low or blocked from the brain’s receptors by genetic or environmental influences; stress, pain, discomfort and agitation are the result.  To provide temporary relief  people with low dopamine levels self-medicate with substances that will produce a short-lived Dopamine response including  alcohol, illicit drugs, prescription drugs, junk foods, sugars, carbohydrates, caffeine, nicotine or other stimulants. These substances produce negative behaviors such as poor sleeping patterns that further depress their own endogenous Dopamine levels.  Exposure to prolonged periods of stress and alcohol or other substances can also lead to a corruption of the “cascade.”

Some people with low Dopamine levels do not self-medicate with alcohol and drugs, but become clinically depressed and anxious.

These behaviors bring with them the possibility of more long-term consequences.

Both genetics and environment greatly affect what Dr. Blum calls the “brain’s reward cascade.”  Therefore, it is often quite difficult to determine what is the root cause of Reward Deficiency Syndrome. However, if Reward Deficiency Syndrome has its origins in your genetic makeup, according to Dr. Blum’s research people have the power to change their genes’ expression. That is, they have the ability to respond to whatever life circumstances they may be in right now and change them to something better through healthier choices — be it healthier nutrition (nutrigenomics) or healthier thoughts, emotions, and lifestyle choices (epigenetics). Either way, the choice and the power are theirs.

Dr. Blum has long believed, and many studies have proven, that in order to overcome genetic predisposition to addiction, certain amino acids and other nutraceuticals must be used to bolster the brain’s ability to increase or decrease certain neurotransmitters or enzymes that control the brain’s reward cascade.

That is why at the Malibu Beach Recovery Center™, we have always given our clients an individually tailored regimen of food supplements and amino acids, which enhance the ability of the our low-glycemic Malibu Beach Recovery Diet™, along with a yoga breath work program to raise Dopamine levels. We then give our graduating clients the tools they need to sustain their now “normalized” Dopamine levels: an online cookbook with rules, recipes, shopping lists; real time DVDs of an abbreviated yoga breath work program that can be done at home every day; and a list of appropriate food supplements and amino acid products.  Clients who continue to follow the diet, do yoga, take specialized food supplements and become involved in the 12 Step Fellowship have a real chance of long term sobriety. But, more importantly, because of the normalization of their brain chemistry they are happier and can now enjoy and live life.

Before they knew about the Malibu Beach Recovery System™, Dr. Blum and Dr. Waite advocated a non-specific “healthy diet” and non-specific regular exercise to accompany a regimen of taking SynaptaGenX (formerly known as Synaptose), the nutrigenomic neuroadaptogen they developed based on Dr. Blum’s many years of research to increase the endogenous production of Dopamine and reduce negative Reward Deficiency Syndrome behaviors.  The scientific evidence they have thus far accumulated, they say,  demonstrates that SynaptaGenX changes the plasticity of the brain synapses while balancing the endogenous neurotransmitters, positively affecting the Brain Reward Cascade. After touring the Malibu Beach Recovery Center™, Dr. Blum decided that the low-glycemic Malibu Beach Recovery Diet™ and the Exercise program based on yoga breath work were the perfect companions to Synaptose™.  He wrote: “I was thinking in the addiction field each of us has the missing part to the global standard of care in this industry.”

Dr Blum stated, “The end result of all these various treatments offered by your clinic will assist the patient to become drug free because they feel so much better due to increased brain function. They do not get so depressed, stressed or anxious that they resort to drug relapse. This type of Neurotransmitter agonistic therapy you have here at Malibu Beach Recovery Center™ reaches far beyond just overcoming an addiction; it prepares the individual for the first time to have a chance at living a happy and joyful sober existence for the rest of their lives.”

We hope he is right.  To find out we have started to give some alumni SynaptaGenX™ in addition to the yoga equipment, cookbooks, and a list of the best 12 Step meetings in their local area. Stay tuned for their feedback.

Showing 10 comments
  • Ginnie Moore

    I really like this article. What a wonderful place this recovery center seems to be. The idea that one can increase dopamine through these holistic ways is very encouraging. Replacing drugs with different drugs certainly cannot be the answer!!! The pharmaceutical companies are so profit driven that there is no way for them to approve of any natural remedies!

  • Becky Henry

    As one person helping people with addictions to another, I thank you for this succinct explanation of these findings on dopamine and addiction. I saw some mention of overeating and am curious about a few things.
    1. Does the Malibu Recovery Center help people with eating disorders?
    2. What are options for those who cannot afford this treatment(no insurance) to access the low glycemic dietary planning and supplement regime?
    3. Do you know of any research that has been done with eating disorders and the Reward Deficiency Syndrome.
    Thank you!
    Becky Henry
    Hope Network, Inc.

  • Joan Borsten

    Hi Becky: Thank you for your kind comments.
    1. Does the Malibu Recovery Center help people with eating disorders?
    Answer: We specialize in addiction to prescription drugs, street drugs, alcohol, depression and anxiety. We have had clients who also have eating disorders but we do not specialize in eating disorders.
    2. What are options for those who cannot afford this treatment(no insurance) to access the low glycemic dietary planning and supplement regime?
    Answer: Our diet is not designed to help people lose weight, but clients who exercise portion control can lose weight. The first Malibu Beach Recovery Cookbook will be available in 2011. Synaptose is already available through “” Two of the Malibu Beach Recovery Center staff have tried synaptose for weight loss and find it does reduce cravings.
    3. Do you know of any research that has been done with eating disorders and the Reward Deficiency Syndrome.
    Answer: I forwarded your question to the company that administers Dr. Blum’s patents and received back a wealth of material. Too much to publish here, so I emailed it directly to you.
    Hope this has been helpful. Joan

  • AnDg

    Yes, I am pleased to visit your blog and would often visit him because of what you serve is very interesting and provide a solution for me and everything. Where in the content of your blog articles containing the terms of neurotransmitters in the Brain, serotonin and dopamine. Thank you for informations your blog and hopefully helpful……………….

  • Shannon Campbell

    I agree that this article is very helpful in further understanding the elements of addiction. I am currently studying Psychology in hope of obtaining a Doctorate in the field and have been very intrigued by reward deficiency theories and associated treatments.
    As a long-term sufferer of alcoholism and anorexia/bulimia now in recovery, I am also very interested in any information you may have regarding links to eating disorders as previously referenced. If you wouldn’t mind forwarding some of the information you have, it would be very much appreciated.
    Thank you. Shannon

  • Linda Santini

    Hi Joan,
    I LOVE your blog and can’t wait to read more.
    The “Reward Deficiency Syndrome” is the answer to two of the problems we have going on in our family – both alcoholism and sugar addiction.
    Thank you SO MUCH for making this information available to everyone, not just those who are in your recovery program!
    Best regards,
    Linda Santini

  • Jerry Greenbaum

    Joan :
    my wife has developed the symptoms of RDS and self medicates with wine.
    I live in Houston, TX. Can you recommend any doctors or clinics in my area who follow Dr. Ken Blum’s protocols and dopamine treatments.
    Jerry Greenbaum-281-460-3076(cell)

  • Manya Helman

    Yes, this is a very nice summary of Dr. Blum’s explanation of the neurochemistry of addictive disease. Do you have a way to send word to him that the ‘contact us’ section of the RDS website is blocked aboaut 3/4 of the way, and therefore contact us requests can’t be submitted? I would enjoy learning more about the supplement, and would like to learn how to obtain it for my patients. Thank you, Manya Helman MD

  • Joan Borsten

    Dear Dr. Helman – I have forwarded your comment to Dr. Blum and his associates. The supplement is excellent. It is called SynaptaGenX. You can order it from
    800 614 7714. Ask for Tony. Joan

  • Dan

    Thank you so much for this enlightening article.
    I found this page whilst conducting research for a book I am writing about nicotine addiction and was very interested to discover that dopamine is not only related to addictions but also eating disorders and mental conditions. Although I specialize in helping people to stop smoking, this got me thinking that therapies used to treat these other illnesses could also be used to help smokers become non-smokers.
    Although you’ve greatly expanded the scope of my research and, therefore, the amount of work I must do, I feel your article has been a revelation in helping me to combat tobacco addiction and so, again, I’d like to heartily thank you for publishing these insights.

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