Addiction and The Gut Microbiome

It’s easy to judge the person on the street, seemingly strung out, wasted from a likely combination of mental health and personal choices or the parent of the child throwing a massive tantrum in the middle of a crowded market but truth be told, the brain-gut-behavior circuit may be more complex than originally thought.

Compulsive behaviors aren’t just traits of the “weak” or immature; in fact, there are gut-brain signals that may very much be triggering compulsive actions such as addictive tendencies, obsessive compulsive disorders, panic and outbursts of anger or rage. One thing that science has confirmed more and more recently is the role that the gut plays in anxiety and depression. If the gut microbiome is in a state of dysbiosis than adequate serotonin and dopamine levels may not be produced by the gut itself, resulting in an insufficient quantity of these “happy hormones” in the brain. Clearly mental health is usually at the front door of addiction. When a person gets their “fix,” whether it be alcohol, drugs, sex, technology or stimulant of choice, it produces a temporary spike in these lacking hormones. The key word here being TEMPORARY, which is what leads an individual to continually seek this spike in feel good responses over and over, defining addiction.

Recent research is showing that some drugs themselves such as alcohol and prescription medications actually cause and worsen gut dysbiosis, potentially exacerbating an individual’s propensity to addiction and compulsive behaviors. On the other hand, could tending to the Gut microbiome hold a key to treating addiction and compulsive behaviors by preventing relapse? What if treating a person with addiction consisted of helping them re-build the gut microbiota to increase “happy” hormone production? Could this actually help prevent the all-too-common relapse?


One study concluded that gut microbes alter the way the brain responds to drugs and thus these changes in brain patterns could ultimately affect our overall behavior. Researchers noted that the decrease in neurons, located in the central amygdala, could lead to fewer withdrawal symptoms, leading to a higher risk of drug abuse. These neurons were lacking due to an imbalance in Gut flora composition which potentially set the person up for a higher probability of addictive behavior and reoccurrence.


In conclusion, the gut strongly affects the brain and the brain is implicated in addiction which means the gut may be as well. Perhaps the process of treating and preventing addiction should include nurturing the gut microbiome