How Addiction Affects the Brain

Addiction and the Brain

How Addiction Affects the Brain

One of the reasons that addiction is considered very serious is because abuse of the way it leads to lasting changes in the structure and functioning of the brain. Addiction manifests itself behaviorally as the drug addict compulsively seeks and uses drugs, despite multiple harmful consequences to themselves and others around them. The addicting substance can be illegal or legally prescribed (but taken beyond safe and prescribed dosages). Addiction is chronic, lasting anywhere from months to years of a person’s life, and is often punctuated with periods of relapse. Many addicts lose their life during their battle with drug addiction, but these sobering statistics could be lowered if more people sought help. Over the past two decades, treatment options for drug addiction have been tried and tested. While there are many options for treatment, the most effective one, time and time again, has been proven to be inpatient treatment.

How an Addiction Forms

Addiction begins through the voluntary efforts of the individual. At the time they begin taking a substance or doing an action, usually for recreation or for pleasurable effects, they are not addicted – physically or psychologically dependent. However, after multiple uses, a habit or ritual begins to form. Due to what are perceived in the brain to be pleasurable effects, these habits/rituals start to become embedded as necessary. There is no depiction as to where the addiction starts, although there usually is some discomfort as the individual realizes their behavior is aberrant in regards to using the drug. However, the discomfort dissipates through drug use. This is where addiction starts – the individual is using the drug to escape from worries, stresses, and responsibilities.

Addiction and the Brain

There are two broad ways in which the addictive substance affects the brain. Either by imitating the brain’s neurotransmitters (natural molecules in the brain that work as messengers in the body’s complex information processing system), and/or by overstimulating the brain’s “reward circuit”. Some drugs, like heroin, are chemically similar to neurotransmitters in that they “trick” the brain and cause it to send abnormal messages. Other drugs, such as cocaine or methamphetamine, cause the brain to release abnormally large amounts of neurotransmitters (like dopamine), causing an amplified message (usually one of pleasure) that ultimately disrupts normal brain communication. Dopamine is usually the neurotransmitter that is released by drugs, and that floods the brain and its reward system. This flood of dopamine feels pleasurable, and ultimately “teaches” the substance abuser that their behavior is “good.” This feeling of pleasure is cheap and ultimately empty because it fades and the user is left feeling extremely deprived, causing them to go into seeking more of the drug to use. These feelings of deprivation are extremely intense, and will cause individuals to behave in ways that are dangerous, irrational, and unhealthy. On top of that, as the person uses the drug, their brain becomes adapted to the dopamine surges, thereby requiring higher doses to achieve the same amount of pleasure. This is where the danger to health really begins, and long-term damage to motivation, learning, memory, judgment, and decision-making most often occurs.

There are many factors that go into potential addiction, and while not all is known, many of them are understood. The more risk factors any one person has, the more likely they will become a drug addict. Genetics plays an important role in addiction, as it does in most things in life. Genes may account for about half of the risk for addiction. Other biological factors like gender, ethnicity, and other mental disorders will also play a role. Environmental factors also increase the probability of addiction. Environmental influences can be social (friends and family), as well as quality of life (crime, education, etc). Finally, development plays a role. Typically, the earlier in life that a person abuses drugs, the more likely it will develop into an addiction. Since the brain develops well into the mid-20s, drug abuse can have long-lasting harmful impacts.

Treatment for Drug Addiction

Drug addiction can be overcome; however, sometimes it can be difficult to find the right solution. There are so many different options for addiction being sold all over the world, and each one promises overcoming addiction. However, the most proven treatment option, has always been inpatient treatment. Inpatient treatment is incredibly beneficial to those who have tried and failed on other drug addiction treatments, like outpatient services, or self-treatment.

Patient in an inpatient addiction treatment facility live in a safe and secure environment where they are monitored and evaluated by a team of caring professionals, dedicated to helping their patient achieve freedom and independence, as well as security, self-awareness, and happiness. Inpatient treatment combines education with care based on the patient’s specific needs. One of the most vital factors in successfully overcoming drug addiction is having a support system, and that is precisely what inpatient treatment provides. The level of care and support is unrelenting, and together the patient and the facility work towards a common goal.