Reptile Brain?

The term “Reptile Brain”, part of the “Triune Brain”, was first proposed in the 1960′s by the American physician and neuroscientist Paul D. MacLean as a way of describing three aspects of the human brain: the Reptilian Complex, the Paleomammalian Complex and the Neomammalian Complex.

Reptile Brain of Man     From Stanley Keleman's Emotional Anatomy

While the concept is no longer fully embraced by most of the scientific community, the term reptile brain, lizard brain, or monkey brain was picked up in recovery circles as a way of describing the parts of the brain which are evolutionarily primitive and control our emotions, drives and urges.


As the neuroscientist David Eagleman points out in his book “Incognito”, the human mind is organized so that there are competing and sometimes conflicting areas of the brain, with different goals and agendas, such as emotional and reasoning complexes or areas dealing with short-term and long-term goals, and this model describes fairly accurately what is going on with addictions. The short term goal is to give in to the addictive behavior, which conflicts with the long term goals of being happy, productive and experiencing love and companionship while living a life which honors our values. This site is dedicated to the understanding of addictive behaviors and to aiding people in overcoming them.


A Nice scientific explanation from The Future of the Mind by Michio Kaku:

“Basically, the ‘high’ of drug addiction is due to the drug’s hijacking of the brain’s own pleasure/reward system located in the limbic system.” This pleasure/reward circuitry is ancient and resides in an area of the brain which some have called the “reptile” or “lizard” brain, and dates back millions of years in our evolutionary history. This brain function is crucial for human survival because it rewards behavior which is beneficial. Once a person’s behavior has been conditioned by drugs, however, great harm will result. The consumption of these drugs will cause a great overproduction of neurotransmitters like dopamine, which “then floods the nucleus accumbens, a tiny pleasure center located deep in the brain near the amygdala. The dopamine, in turn, is produced by certain brain cells in the ventral tegmental area, called the VTA cells.”

All addictive drugs affect the brain the same way: they cause an overproduction of dopamine which, after conditioning, results in the excitation of the brain’s motivational circuits and the crippling of the “VTA-nucleus accumbens circuit, which controls the flow of dopamine and other neurotransmitters to the pleasure center.” Different drugs affect dopamine regulation in different ways. Drugs differ only in the way in which this process takes place. There are three neurotransmitters which addictive drugs interact with that will affect the brain: “dopamine, serotonin, and noradrenaline; all of them give feelings of pleasure, euphoria, and false confidence, and also produce a burst of energy.”

Cocaine and other stimulants work in two main ways. They stimulate the VTA cells to produce excess dopamine, flooding the nucleus accumbens with way more of the neurotransmitter than we would ever get from normal life activities. Then they stop the VTA cells from shutting down and they them producing dopamine as long as cocaine is attached to the receptors. “They also impede the uptake of serotonin and noradrenaline. The simultaneous flooding of neural circuits from all three of these neurotransmitters, then, creates the tremendous high associated with cocaine.

Heroin and other opiates, by contrast, work by neutralizing the cells in the VTA that can reduce the production of dopamine, thus causing the VTA to overproduce dopamine.”

A good explanation from (whose website is no longer available but you are able to look at the archived version at

“There is nothing wrong with wanting to feel good. In fact, you are sick and warped if you don’t want to feel good.”

Memories from the Reptile Brain-- mixed media--watercolor and collage

“We have a real genuine need to get high, just as real as our need for food. If we don’t, or can’t, get high, we go into depression.”

two parts of our brain: the primitive part containing the amygdala: which is responsible for generating & processing our fear & other primal emotions: & our frontal lobes: the neo-cortex or the newest part of our brain, which is able to apply a bit of logic to the message of raw fear that our reptilian brain generates. When I feel that knot in my stomach, I try to envision a Harvard professor, whacking a reptile on the head saying "Would you please just evolve, you overly dramatic creature?"

I urge you to go to their site and read what they say about addiction.

To Be Human Against All Odds: On the Reptile Still Active in Our Brain (Nanzan Studies in Religion and Culture) by Frederick Franck,

We have become slaves to the memory of what used to make us feel good.

I hope you enjoy this site and find it useful. As you go through the pages, there will be links to various sites and songs. The links will open up in a different window so when you follow a link to a song, I suggest you leave that page open and come back to the original page so you can read the words as you listen to the song. Many of the songs refer to “help from above” or “my lord” or other religious references. I would like to be clear that I do not consider beliefs of a spiritual nature to be a requirement for recovery. All that is required is a desire to end an addiction and a willingness to learn how. When it comes to religious beliefs, believing “what thou wilt” (or won’t) “shall be the whole of the law.” If you have any suggestions for the site or comments, please leave them as I have much to learn and miles to go before I sleep.


My ex was critiquing the site and she said all the music I had was lullabies that put her to sleep, but she understood that I was a heroin addict and that my basic personality needed calming, that my nature was to look for tranquility in my music and my life. She was right. I realized I was not catering to my speed-freak and coke-fiend brothers and sisters, who are bored to tears by my predilections. I will make an effort to add a little excitement and make things slightly more up-tempo so people can read this stuff and not doze off. I will be adding such tunes in the future. Red Hot Chili Peppers, here I come.

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