Everyone has that one song, album, or artist that can immediately turn a miserable day into a bearable or even good one. A combination of lyrics, beats, and a voice that improves your mood and can change your current perspective. Well, it turns out that those same tunes might just have the same effect on your brain as an opioid drug.
Music has been an integral part of humanity during its entire existence. From the early humans all the way to modern day society, music has been an integral part of everyday life. In order to come to a conclusion, scientists observed performers and listeners, scanning their brains and measuring hormone production. What they found is that listening to music follows the same reward process as other dopamine-related reactions. This reward process has two parts: one is the anticipation and the other is the one when dopamine really hits us. This is the exact same way in which people get addicted to drugs.
And while this whole process is about making us feel better, it can lead to some terrible life choices. Stress eating is one of the bad choices that can come as a result of this award process. Stress eating then leads to weight gain which in turn may lead to depression or other debilitating medical issues. On the other end of the spectrum, we have drug addiction. While recreational drug use may seem like something fun, it may open up a Pandora’s box which can never be closed again. In order to avoid something like this, people learn to control their reward system and the urge to satisfy it. Some drugs like naltrexone and naloxone that are used to block opioid receptors have shown that they can reduce the dopamine reaction you have after a grueling exercise or after eating your favorite treat. This leads scientists to believe that these same drugs may potentially treat alcohol and drug dependence.
Scientists even tested these drugs and their effects while people enjoy music. The participants were divided into two groups: one that took the drug and one that took a placebo. The participants then listened to two of their favorite songs (songs that give them chills) and two songs that were “neutral”. Sensors were used to monitor the electrical activity in their facial musculature. The following week the groups were reversed, and the one that took the drug received the placebo and vice versa. The study showed that participants that consumed naltrexone had a lesser emotional reaction. The reaction was the same for both positive and negative emotions. An additional measure that was used was a slider that the participants used to show the level of enjoyment they felt while listening to music. This results also showed a lower level of enjoyment in the groups that consumed the drug. On the other hand, the reaction to the neutral music stayed the same in both instances.
So, the conclusion is that naltrexone has the same effect on people’s response to music as it does on their response to opioids, tasty food, and exercise. This all but proves that the same reward system in the brain is responsible for all those categories.
The issue is the size of the study conducted, as it was done on only 15 participants, but interestingly all of them had the same response. This represents an intriguing way in which scientists can further observe the issue of opioid drug addiction.