How does addiction affect the brain? This is a question that is still being studied by scientists all over the world. However, we do know some of the basics about how drug addiction affects different parts of the brain. In this blog post, we will discuss what is known about how addiction affects the brain, and also talk about some of the treatment options for drug addiction.
Why are certain drugs addicting?
There are many theories about why some drugs are more addicting than others. However, most experts agree that it has to do with how the drug affects the brain’s reward system. The brain’s reward system is a group of brain cells and structures that work together to give us a sense of pleasure. When we do something that is good for us, such as eating or having sex, natural rewards are activated and we feel pleasure. This pleasure encourages us to keep doing things that are good for us.
Other drugs, such as alcohol or cocaine, can activate the reward system in a way that is much stronger than natural activities such as eating or having sex. Neurotransmitter systems that are involved in the reward system, such as the neurotransmitter dopamine, are particularly affected by addictive drugs. Dopamine receptors are the same component that allows us to feel pleasure from any other normal enjoyable activities. The increase of production in neurotransmitter dopamine triggered by substance abuse is what can lead to addiction.
However, this intense feeling of pleasure does not last forever. With continued use of the drug, the brain circuits starts to adjust to the presence of the drug. This is why people who abuse drugs often need to take higher and higher doses of the drug to get the same feeling of pleasure that they did when they first started using.
How do drugs affect your brain?
Drug use involves chemicals. Inhaling these chemicals can cause brain damage, affecting how nerve cells normally send and process messages. Different medicines—because the structures in them are different from each other—works different ways. Just like what was discussed above, addictive drugs like heroin or cannabis have chemical structures mimicking neurotransmitters found naturally. Basically they can “foul” / lock up the receptors & activate neurons.
Here is a rundown of how each drugs affect the brain and one’s mental health:
– Alcohol: damages the frontal lobe, which controls planning and judgment
– Amphetamines: increase the activity of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and motivation
– Cannabis: disrupts communication between different regions of the brain
– Cocaine: increases the activity of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and motivation
– Ecstasy: increases the activity of serotonin, a neurotransmitter associated with happiness and well-being
– Heroin: mimics the action of neurotransmitters called endorphins, which reduces pain and produces pleasure
As you can see, different drugs affect different parts of the brain. However, all drugs have one thing in common: they all cause damage to the brain. This damage can be temporary or permanent, depending on the drug and the individual.
Areas of the brain affected by substance use
Diving deeper into the question how does addiction affect the brain, let us review each part of the brain affected by substance use disorder. In fact, alcohol is harmful to entire brain regions, though some areas are more affected. The American Psychological Association has published the article Drugs Brains and Behavior: The Scientific Investigation of Addiction (NIDA). Many drug and alcohol effects can affect our cerebrum. A cerebellum aids in muscle control which causes people to stumble when walking after drinking.
The hypothalamus controls different body processes like eating, drinking, and temperature. It is also responsible for the release of certain hormones that activates the brain’s pleasure center. The limbic system includes the amygdala which is important for emotional learning and memory. This region can be permanently damaged by alcohol and drug use, leading to memory problems later in life.
The prefrontal cortex (PFC) is the last region to develop during adolescence. This area is important for judgment, decision-making, and self-control. It’s no surprise that alcohol and drug use during this time can lead to poor decisions that have long-term consequences.
What do brain scans of addicted people show?
Although addiction can show up on many levels from physical changes to behaviors, brain scans may show signs of addiction in the brain which are also proofs to how does addiction affect the brain. Researchers studying how addiction affects a human being have discovered definite signs and patterns involving nerve cells. With the help of imaging technologies such as PET or magnetic resonance imaging, doctors can see the internal brain functioning of a patient with or without addiction. This scan shows how addiction affects many different regions of the brain.
Studies show that brain magnetic resonance imaging scans of people with addiction look different than brain scans of people without addiction. The main difference is in the area of the brain called the prefrontal cortex. This region is responsible for judgment, decision-making, and self-control. In people with addiction, this area shows less activity. This means that people with addiction have a harder time making decisions and controlling their behavior.
Can the brain heal itself after addiction?
Now that we have discussed how does addiction affect the brain, it begs to also ask, can the brain recover from it? The brain has an extraordinary ability to bring about incredible innovations in the field of human life that have transformed their lives. Despite its fragile structure and chemical composition, the brain is extremely vulnerable to addictions. Fortunately, researchers find that brain damage from addictive activities has an inherent potential to “unlearn” addictive actions although it does not automatically disappear. Therefor, brain’s recovery is possible. Researchers have investigated how the human brain adapted to its baseline level after drug therapy.
Brain adapts to changes in the environment by developing new brain pathways and compensating for damaged areas. This process is called “neuroplasticity.” It occurs throughout life, but it is most pronounced during childhood and adolescence when the brain is developing rapidly.
Addiction treatment must take into account the plasticity of the brain and its ability to adapt to change. For people who want to recover from drug abuse, it is important to understand that the brain will adapt to the absence of drugs. In other words, to achieve overall improvement in mental health, treatment must help the brain learn new ways to function without drugs.
What is the treatment for drug addiction?
Wondering what is the first step of drug addiction treatment? The first step is detoxification, which helps the body rid itself of the toxic effects of the drug and regain healthy brain functions. Detoxification is followed by counseling and therapy to help the person understand the addiction and its effects on their life. Aftercare and support groups are also important to help maintain sobriety.
There are lots of treatment variations available. One treatment that is quite popular is dialectical behavior therapy. But it is highly important to note that drug addiction treatment must be tailored to the individual, as each person’s mental health responds differently. Factors such as age, health, severity of addiction, and social support play a role in how successful treatment will be. It is important to remember that addiction is a chronic disease and relapse is common. Treatment must be continuous and should be looked at as a lifelong process.
Substance use disorders can be healed and there are lots of options to what is the treatment for drug addiction. But they will all require time, effort, and determination. If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, don’t give up hope. Help is available. There are drug abuse website you can reach out. Seek professional help and start the journey to addiction recovery today.
What will motivate an addict to start recovery?
The most important factor in addiction recovery is motivation. A person who is addicted to drugs must be willing to change their behavior and make lifestyle changes to recover. An addict’s motivation to change can come from many places. It may come from a desire to improve their health, relationships, or job performance. It may also come from a fear of losing their life to their addiction.
Although the decision to recover must come from the addict himself, you can help by providing support and understanding. Showing an addict that you care about their well-being and want to see them get better can be a powerful motivator. The brain’s reward that he/she gets is just superficial. Sometimes, addiction research that tells how the brain responds to addiction can be a strong motivator for recovery. Help the patient understand himself more and guide him to see outside of what addiction offers.
How does addiction affect the brain? Addiction changes the brain in multiple ways, including reducing its ability to control impulses and decision-making. The good news is that with treatment, the brain can adapt and change back to its original state. If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, there is help available. Start caring for you mental health. Subscribe into a therapy fitter for you and start your journey towards addiction recovery.