How Drug Addiction Affects the Brain?
It is a popular belief that alcohol and drug addiction is a choice. That people choose to try a substance and that they can decide to stop using that substance if they wanted to. For anyone who has experienced the devastating effects of substance abuse, it becomes clear that quitting drugs and alcohol may no longer be a choice.
Addiction is a disease that ravishes the brain and body and can leave those who suffer from it in a desperate state ¹. It can create physiological changes to the brain, and that result in dependency on drugs or alcohol to function normally and make it a serious challenge to get clean.
The following article is to help illuminate how this disease works on the brain and how it can leave someone powerless in trying to get off the substances have the power to destroy someone’s life.
When Casual Use Turns to Necessity
You’ll never run into someone who intends on becoming a drug or alcohol addict. It is a slow transformation that typically takes place over some time. What starts as casual drinking or drug use can quickly spiral out of control for someone with a predisposition for drug addiction.
For example, someone in their youth may be introduced to cocaine at a party with friends. The first time they snort, they’re not yet addicted to the substance. However, they enjoy the rush it gives them so much; they decide to have another line. Then another. And another. Where some people can regulate their drug use, others may lack that ability, which can have devastating consequences.
Which brings up the question, why do some people become addicted and others don’t?
Researchers have looked into this matter heavily and, though it’s still not completely understood, a few answers have surfaced.
- Environment – If a person lives in a place where drug use is normal or if they spend a significant amount of time around people who use drugs frequently, they’re much more likely to fall into a drug addiction².
- Genetics – Studies have found between 40% to 60% of drug users inherit the trait from a family member³.
- Mental Health – If a person is struggling with a mental illness, they may turn to drugs or alcohol as a means of self-medicating. If the effects of this substance are enough to curb symptoms, they’ll naturally take more and more⁴. The same goes for…
- Physical Health – More often than not, people who suffer from severe pain have prescribed an overabundance of addictive substances, usually opioids. If they take this medication long enough, it’s only natural an addiction develops.
The Dopamine Reward System
So, while considering the above factors, how do drugs and alcohol infiltrate the brain?
Most drugs hijack the brain’s reward system and release an abundance of dopamine, the chemical that makes us feel pleasure. In turn, our hippocampus creates strong memories of this satisfaction while, over time, our amygdala develops a controlled response to these intruding chemicals⁵.
It results in the brain conditioning a tolerance for the drug or substance. This condition is what causes people to feel withdrawal symptoms when they don’t intake the substance for a short period.
The brain is rewired to fit the imbalance of neurotransmitter levels the drug has produced. And the dependence of this drug becomes inevitable. The only way to reverse this response is to stop taking the drug and allow the brain to rewire itself to its natural state. However, this induces withdrawal symptoms which are often extremely uncomfortable.
The Importance of Treatment
Addiction recovery facilities exist to help people in beating this chemical change in the brain. With the right kind of medical assistance, treatment centers not only assure a safe recovery but an effective one.
Substance abuse is an issue that can quickly spiral out of control, leaving many powerless to get off the substances that inflict so much damage in their lives. If you or a loved one needs help with substance abuse, some professionals can help. Seeking treatment early in one’s drug addiction can save years of hardship. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help when needed.