Inside the Addicted Brain
The brain is a very important organ in the human body. It controls how we move, walk, talk, and speak. The brain adapts to environmental changes and allows us to cope with negative emotions, form memories, and learn. Some people turn to drugs or alcohol to cope with stress, anxiety, and depression. Eventually, the individual can become addicted to the substances, which can lead to serious health complications, overdose, and death.
Addiction Changes the Brain
Addiction makes chemical and physiological changes in the brain making it difficult for a person to quit using drugs or alcohol. Drugs and alcohol affect the brain’s neurotransmitter, dopamine, which causes temporary pleasurable feelings and euphoria. According to an article published by Harvard Medical School, How Addiction Hijacks the Brain (2011), “dopamine not only contributes to the experience of pleasure, but also plays a role in learning and memory — two key elements in the transition from liking something to becoming addicted to it.”
Addiction is similar to other chronic diseases because it is preventable, treatable, it changes biology, and if left untreated, it can last a lifetime. A person living with an addiction will develop a tolerance to the substances he or she uses and seek more of the drugs or alcohol to achieve the same “high” as the first time they used. Eventually, it becomes increasingly difficult to get the release of more dopamine to feel pleasure. This can lead to a person using more drugs and alcohol, or substances with a higher potency.
Health Risks Caused by Addiction
The brain adapts to and changes with addiction. According to Dr. George Koob, director of the NIH National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (2015), “the brain actually changes with addiction, and it takes a good deal of work to get it back to its normal state. The more drugs or alcohol you’ve taken, the more disruptive it is to the brain.” If drug or alcohol use continues, the changes become more permanent.
Drugs and alcohol make an impact on major organ function in your body. Drug and alcohol use can lead to heart disease, liver failure, some types of cancer, kidney failure, overdose, and early death. Drugs and alcohol affect the brain’s ability to form and store important memories. This means you will miss significant and meaningful dates and events with loved ones. These substances also can cause irreversible brain damage.
Some people do not realize they are physically dependent on drugs or alcohol until they try to quit using them and experience withdrawal symptoms. The uncomfortable and sometimes painful withdrawals are a response to the brain needing more of the drug or alcohol to function. Withdrawal symptoms make the brain crave more of the drug to feel “normal” again.
Risk Factors of Addiction
While there are no clear-cut reasons why one person becomes addicted and another does not, there are some factors that put a person at a higher risk of developing an addiction. This includes:
- Genetic makeup and other individual biological factors
- The age when use begins
- Psychological factors related to a person’s unique history and personality
- Environmental factors, such as the availability of drugs, and family and peer dynamics
- Financial resources, cultural norms, exposure to stress, and access to social support
Specific combinations of factors can drive the emergence and continuation of substance misuse and the progression to a disorder or an addiction (U.S. Department of Health & Human Services).
Mental Health and Addiction
Some who struggle with addiction also suffer from underlying mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, bipolar, PTSD, or schizophrenia. Some who live with a mental health condition turn to drugs or alcohol to cope. The drugs or alcohol can heighten the symptoms of some mental health disorders, which can cause the person to continue drugs or alcohol to escape. It is crucial that treatment simultaneously addresses any co-occurring neurological or psychological disorders that are known to drive vulnerable individuals to experiment with drugs and become addicted in the first place.
Treatment is Available
Although it can seem impossible while in the throes of addiction, your brain can learn how to function without the control of drugs or alcohol. When pursuing sobriety in treatment, be patient. It will take some time for your brain to heal. It needs to be re-trained to function normally, without the control of toxic substances.
If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction and a mental health condition, get help today for a co-occurring disorder. Treatment can be tailored to your unique needs. Addiction is a chronic brain disease that cannot be cured, but can be managed with treatment. Sometimes stigma of addiction and psychiatric disorders prevents people from getting the help they desperately need. Do not be afraid to get help. Once you are in recovery from addiction or a substance use disorder, you can go on to live a healthy, fulfilling life in sobriety.
Daylight Recovery Services takes a holistic approach to substance abuse and co-occurring disorder treatment to address the physical, psychological, and spiritual facets of addiction and recovery. We ensure clients emerge from our facility with the proper tools and confidence in their ability to lead a healthy, enjoyable life. If you or someone you love is ready to break free of the bondage of addiction, contact one of our recovery experts today at 1-833-2DAYLIGHT.