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How Does Addiction Affect The Brain

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Reward Systems In The Brain

How Addiction Affects The Brain

Drug use manipulates the brains reward system, the chemical processes that cause people to repeat pleasurable activities associated with survival. Most of the neurotransmitters affected by drugs are part of this system. Normally, these neurotransmitters cause you to find pleasure in survival-related things, such as food and sexual activity. Drugs that target these neurotransmitters tie pleasurable sensations to drug use.

What Environmental Factors Increase The Risk Of Addiction

Environmental factors are those related to the family, school, and neighborhood. Factors that can increase a person’s risk include the following:

  • Home and Family. The home environment, especially during childhood, is a very important factor. Parents or older family members who use drugs or misuse alcohol, or who break the law, can increase children’s risk of future drug problems.29
  • Peer and School. Friends and other peers can have an increasingly strong influence during the teen years. Teens who use drugs can sway even those without risk factors to try drugs for the first time. Struggling in school or having poor social skills can put a child at further risk for using or becoming addicted to drugs.30

The Brain Continues To Develop Into Adulthood And Undergoes Dramatic Changes During Adolescence

One of the brain areas still maturing during adolescence is the prefrontal cortexthe part of the brain that allows people to assess situations, make sound decisions, and keep emotions and desires under control. The fact that this critical part of a teens brain is still a work in progress puts them at increased risk for trying drugs or continuing to take them. Introducing drugs during this period of development may cause brain changes that have profound and long-lasting consequences.

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How Addiction Affects Your Family

Addiction isnt just a disease that affects one person. It also takes a toll on the entire family. Since addiction leads to irresistible cravings and urges to drink or use to avoid experiencing withdrawal symptoms, people who are addicted make substances their priority. They no longer have a choice in the matter.

Even though it may not seem like something you would normally do, if you developed an addiction you would likely find yourself lying to your family members about whether you are using and how much you are using. You may take money that is earmarked for paying bills and use it to support your addiction.

These types of actions erode the trust built up between you and your family members, leading to increased conflict. Over time, relationships between you and your family will suffer due to multiple occurrences of lies, half-truths, and broken promises. Once trust has been broken, its very difficult to rebuild it.

Someone who is living with an addiction can start to find their way back by seeking professional help at a drug and alcohol treatment center. Long-term recovery is possible with individualized addiction treatment.

What Reward Does To Your Brain

How does addiction affect the brain?

When we experience a reward or pleasure, the ventral tegmental area sends dopamine into the basal gangliaa structure that is responsible for numerous things such as executive functions, behaviors, and emotions. And it is this release that tells us that whatever we just experienced was wonderful and to please do it again. It is this chain of events that helps us change behavior, provide motivation, and affect our mood. All in all, it makes us feel good. And this is where substance use steps in.

All addictive substances work on the same common reward pathway, says Anna Lembke, M.D., medical director of addiction medicine at School of Medicine at Stanford University. Different substances will release different amounts of dopamine, but they all release dopamine in a reward pathway and thats what relates to their addictive potential.

How the brain responds depends upon the substance to which one is addicted, says David A. Fiellin, M.D., director of the program in addiction medicine at Yale School of Medicine. It is reasonable to say that the reward system of the brain gets hijacked by substances that cause addiction. Some of the brain changes are in the cells of the brain. The proteins that the cells make can also change over time with repeated exposure to a substance. The receptors on the cells can change also. Thats a lot of brain chemistry shifting around.

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How Does Drug Abuse Affect Your Brains Functioning

When working properly, the neurotransmitters in our brain help us to maintain a balanced mood, think clearly and efficiently, and maintain general health and well-being. When these messages get scrambled, or stopped in their tracks, we experience adverse health effects, most notably to our mental health and thought processes.

According to NIDA, Drugs can alter the way people think, feel, and behave by disrupting neurotransmission, the process of communication between neurons in the brain. These effects can be witnessed by the development or aggravation of a mental health disorder, a persons inability to feel pleasure, and decreased cognitive functions.

Depending on the drug of abuse, substance abuse and addiction can cause:

  • Anxiety
  • Psychosis
  • A variety of other mental illness

Stroke and seizure result from many forms of abuse, which can damage the brain even more extensively. And should you use more than one drug at a time , the frequency and intensity of certain side effects may rise.

Further, each of these side effects can be risk factors for continued substance abuse. They either make it more difficult for a person to make sound decisions or drive them to self-medicate in an attempt to relieve them.

How Different Substances Affect Different Neurotransmitters

bstance) and the neuroadaptation that can also result in addiction.

Dr. Lembke explains that various classes of substances can increase different neurotransmitters and receptors, such as:

  • Sedatives work on the GABA receptor, and GABA is the calming neurotransmitter in the brain.
  • Nicotine works on the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor, its own receptor in the brain.
  • Cannabis works on the anandamide receptor, its own receptor in the brain.
  • Opioids obviously work on opioid receptors.
  • Hallucinogens typically work on the serotonin system.

So, even though they work by different mechanisms, the final common pathway to release dopamine in the reward pathway of the brain is the same, she says.

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When Many People Talk About Addiction The First Thought That Comes To Mind Is Often The Health Problems

While a substance abuse problem can lead to a visible decline in mental health or physical appearance, there is a lot more going on behind the scenes. Along with the physical health repercussions of long-term drug or alcohol abuse, prolonged use of these substances can literally mess with your mind. Addiction isnt just a bad habit or some risky choices it is a disease that can actually alter the chemistry of the brain.

Growing New Brain Cells

How Does Addiction Affect the Brain?

For decades scientists believed that the number of nerve cells in the adult brain was fixed early in life. If brain damage occurred, then, the best way to treat it was by strengthening the existing neurons, as new ones could not be added. In the 1960s, however, researchers found that new neurons are indeed generated in adulthooda process called neurogenesis . These new cells originate from stem cells, which are cells that can divide indefinitely, renew themselves, and give rise to a variety of cell types. The discovery of brain stem cells and adult neurogenesis provides a new way of approaching the problem of alcoholrelated changes in the brain and may lead to a clearer understanding of how best to treat and cure alcoholism .

For example, studies with animals show that high doses of alcohol lead to a disruption in the growth of new brain cells scientists believe it may be this lack of new growth that results in the longterm deficits found in key areas of the brain . Understanding how alcohol interacts with brain stem cells and what happens to these cells in alcoholics is the first step in establishing whether the use of stem cell therapies is an option for treatment .

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Do People Choose To Keep Using Drugs

The initial decision to take drugs is typically voluntary. But with continued use, a person’s ability to exert self-control can become seriously impaired. This impairment in self-control is the hallmark of addiction.

Brain imaging studies of people with addiction show physical changes in areas of the brain that are critical to judgment, decision-making, learning and memory, and behavior control.12 These changes help explain the compulsive nature of addiction.

How Do Drugs Work In The Brain

Drugs interfere with the way neurons send, receive, and process signals via neurotransmitters. Some drugs, such as marijuana and heroin, can activate neurons because their chemical structure mimics that of a natural neurotransmitter in the body. This allows the drugs to attach onto and activate the neurons. Although these drugs mimic the brains own chemicals, they dont activate neurons in the same way as a natural neurotransmitter, and they lead to abnormal messages being sent through the network.

Other drugs, such as amphetamine or cocaine, can cause the neurons to release abnormally large amounts of natural neurotransmitters or prevent the normal recycling of these brain chemicals by interfering with transporters. This too amplifies or disrupts the normal communication between neurons.

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How Does Addiction Happen

Addiction begins with desire. Some people use addictive substances to escape emotional, psychological, or physical pain, while others use drugs and alcohol to relax or cope with family, school, financial, and career pressure. Other reasons for substance use include boredom, a need for instant gratification, a desire for rebellion, peer pressure, curiosity, or a need to feel in control. All of these reasons are rooted in desire. Drugs and alcohol seem to satisfy users desire by evoking the brains pleasure center.

What Are The Negative Effects Of Drugs And Alcohol On The Brain


Drugs and alcohol have negative impacts on the brain, including:

  • Damaging brain cells
  • Changing the chemical balance within the brain
  • Starving the brain of essential nutrients
  • Most of these impacts are quickly reversed once a person becomes abstinent. But, there are exceptions.

    Wet brain or Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome is permanent brain damage from alcoholism. Heavy drinking causes a deficiency of Vitamin B1 in the brain, causing memory loss, lack of coordination and other dementia-like symptoms.

    The best way to prevent these long-term effects is by treating your addiction now before its too late. The sooner you get help, the less likely your brain will be impacted in the long term. doctors follow rigorous sourcing guidelines and cite only trustworthy sources of information, including peer-reviewed journals, count records, academic organizations, highly regarded nonprofit organizations, government reports and their own expertise with decades in the fields and their own personal recovery.

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    The Brain Addiction And Withdrawal

    As a consequence of drug addiction, the brain rewards the harmful behavior. It encourages drug addiction, keeping the individual in a cycle of highs and lows the user may feel like theyre on an emotional roller-coaster, feeling desperation and depression without their substance of abuse. Once someone suddenly stops using, there are harsh mental, physical, and emotional results. Individuals may experience distressing symptoms they cannot ignore for some substances withdrawal symptoms are generally stronger for some substances than others.

    At the point of withdrawal, someone who stops using Heroin experiences intense cravings, depression, anxiety, and sweating. Much of this is due to the rewiring of the brain after extended Heroin use. In this stage, the individual may not have a full-blown addiction a tolerance or dependency may have developed, however. Over time, the high volume of chemicals floods the brain the brain correspondingly adapts to the mental effects of the substance. The brain then reduces its production of neurotransmitters, chemical messengers in the brain. Withdrawal symptoms often need professional treatment, which can significantly help reduce the chance of relapse and the risks of stroke and heart attack.

    Break free from addiction.

    Addiction And The Brain

    If you or someone you care about has been struggling with addiction, you probably already know about the toll that drug use is having on your body, but how does addiction affect the brain?

    While the physical consequences are genuine and incredibly dangerous, there is another addiction side, one that could be even more consequential down the line. Drug use not only impacts the body it also has a profound impact on the brain, and the potential for brain damage is one of the most significant risks drug addicts face and one of the biggest reasons they need to seek help as quickly as possible.

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    # 4 Addiction Changes The Structures In The Brain

    The brain is composed of many different regions and structures. The communication of the brain system allows these different regions to manage their activities. Each of these different structures has its own purposes.

    Addictions can alter these regions and structures and how the brain functions. It affects some regions and structures of the brain, such as:

    • Withdrawal effects, and relapse triggers
    • Stress regulation and withdrawal.

    Effects Of Substance Use On Brain Circuits And Functions

    How Does Alcohol Addiction Affect the Brain?

    Continued research is necessary to more thoroughly explain how substance use affects the brain at the molecular, cellular, and circuit levels. Such research has the potential to identify common neurobiological mechanisms underlying substance use disorders, as well as other related mental disorders. This research is expected to reveal new neurobiological targets, leading to new medications and non-pharmacological treatmentssuch as transcranial magnetic stimulation or vaccinesfor the treatment of substance use disorders. A better understanding of the neurobiological mechanisms underlying substance use disorders could also help to inform behavioral interventions. Therefore, basic research that further elucidates the neurobiological framework of substance use disorders and co-occurring mental disorders, as well as research leading to the development of new medications and other therapeutics to treat the underlying neurobiological mechanisms of substance use disorders should be accelerated.

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    Helping You Overcome Addiction From The Inside Out

    Here at Genesis Recovery, we know that addiction is a disease that causes both internal and external damage. We also know that addiction is treatable. Our comprehensive treatment approach can help you rehabilitate your life from the inside out. We combine clinical support with the 12-step program to help you overcome addiction challenges and change your habits for the better. But we also offer spiritually-nurturing activities and a supportive community that can help you transform your life from the inside as well.

    Addiction challenges dont have to continue to control your life. You can begin again and we can help you get there. Contact us today at 619-797-7319 if you, a loved one, or a close friend are struggling with addiction.

    Do you or a loved one need help?

    Key Points To Understand The Brain And Addiction:

    1. Some characteristics of addiction are similar to other chronic diseases.

    Just as cardiovascular disease damages the heart and changes its functioning, addiction changes the brain and impairs the way it works. Below is an image of the brain and the heart .

    These images show how scientists can use imaging technology to measure functioning of the brain and heart. Greater activity is shown in reds and yellows, and reduced activity is shown in blues and purples. Both the healthy brain and the healthy heart show greater activity than the diseased brain and heart, because both addiction and heart disease cause changes in function. In drug addiction, the frontal cortex in particular shows less activity. This is the part of the brain associated with judgment and decision-making .

    Addiction is similar to other chronic diseases in the following ways:

    • It is preventable
    • If untreated, it can last a lifetime

    2. Substances of misuse trick the brains reward system.

    Below is a picture of the brain and the nucleus accumbens, in addition to some other brain regions that are affected by addition.

    The brains nucleus accumbens activated by alcohol

    Addictive drugs can provide a shortcut to the brains reward system by flooding the nucleus accumbens with dopamine. Additionally, addictive drugs can release 2 to 10 times the amount of dopamine that natural rewards do, and they do it more quickly and reliably.

    3. The brain can recover but it takes time!

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    Treating The Body And Brain

    As life-changing impacts can be experienced through addiction, to recover, the body and brain must be treated. The focus will be on rehabilitating and readjusting physical and psychological functioning and wellbeing, to disassociate drugs and alcohol.

    A range of treatments and therapies will be required to improve the stability of the mind, internal systems, and actions. Holistic therapies are extremely helpful when focusing on the damages of addiction. The likes of mental health treatment, relaxation therapy, mindfulness, nutritional therapy, and wellbeing management will all be recommended alongside addiction treatment.

    Addiction recovery will focus on nurturing the body and mind, to strengthen their fight against future triggers and relapse.

    How Do You Rewire Your Brain From Addiction

    How does addiction affect the brain? » Ask Our Doctors (by ...

    After addiction, the brain begins to heal itself and return to its normal functioning. The process can take several weeks to several months, but eventually, you will feel better. Here are some tips that are proven to help your brain heal from addiction:

  • Be patient and give yourself some time Simply put, your mind needs time to heal. You didnt become addicted overnight, and the brain must go through the healing process like any other organ.
  • Stay Active in your Recovery This includes attending recovery meetings, meditating and helping others. The most important thing is that you build a routine. Staying consistently active is the best thing you can do to prevent relapse and keep your mind and body on a healthy course.
  • Make sleep a priority. Addiction and lack of sleep involve many of the same processes in the brain. And, research shows that people are more likely to engage in risky behaviors if they are sleep deprived.
  • Find a fun and engaging hobby, like writing, painting or learning to play an instrument. The more you enjoy it, the more likely you are to follow through and actually see the benefits.
  • You can never fully eliminate the seeds in the brain that contribute to addiction, but you can reverse some of the damage that addiction causes. Be patient with yourself. Healing from addiction takes time, but with the right help, recovery is possible.

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