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How Does Drug Addiction Affect The Brain

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What Other Factors Increase The Risk Of Addiction

How Addiction Affects The Brain
  • Early use. Although taking drugs at any age can lead to addiction, research shows that the earlier people begin to use drugs, the more likely they are to develop serious problems.31 This may be due to the harmful effect that drugs can have on the developing brain.32 It also may result from a mix of early social and biological risk factors, including lack of a stable home or family, exposure to physical or sexual abuse, genes, or mental illness. Still, the fact remains that early use is a strong indicator of problems ahead, including addiction.
  • How the drug is taken. Smoking a drug or injecting it into a vein increases its addictive potential.33,34 Both smoked and injected drugs enter the brain within seconds, producing a powerful rush of pleasure. However, this intense high can fade within a few minutes. Scientists believe this powerful contrast drives some people to repeatedly use drugs to recapture the fleeting pleasurable state.

What Is Drug Addiction

Addiction is defined as a chronic, relapsing disorder characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use despite adverse consequences. It is considered a brain disorder, because it involves functional changes to brain circuits involved in reward, stress, and self-control. Those changes may last a long time after a person has stopped taking drugs.11

Addiction is a lot like other diseases, such as heart disease. Both disrupt the normal, healthy functioning of an organ in the body, both have serious harmful effects, and both are, in many cases, preventable and treatable. If left untreated, they can last a lifetime and may lead to death.

External Effects Of Addiction On The Body

As addiction wreaks havoc on the internal body, physical changes can occur. Using drugs and alcohol can cause extreme weight loss, sudden weight gain, acne, and skin lesions. Tobacco and nicotine prematurely age the skin. Methamphetamine can cause severe tooth decay and gum disease also known as meth mouth. Prolonged use of drugs and alcohol can also lead to baldness or male pattern hair growth in women.

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How Does Addiction Work In The Body And Brain

Every year, addiction affects millions of Americans. Like any other disease, addiction wreaks havoc on the brain and the body. Whether weve struggled with addiction on our own or watched a loved one or close friend grapple with substance use, most of us know that addiction changes the way the brain works and negatively impacts the body. But the average American probably doesnt know how addiction works. In many ways, addiction masquerades as a desirable friend, when in fact, this friend secretly causes you pain.

Emotional Control: Managing Feelings

How Drugs Can Become Addictive

If you struggle to control your emotions, you probably overreact in emotional situations. You might also act out of those overblown emotions and create unnecessary drama and pain. Addiction can cause a loss of emotional control because most people under the influence of drugs do not feel their emotions. When the drugs wear off, the emotional pain can be too much to process all at once. An addict will often act out those emotions until he can calm them with more drugs.

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Introducing The Human Brain

The human brain is the most complex organ in the body. This three-pound mass of gray and white matter sits at the center of all human activityyou need it to drive a car, to enjoy a meal, to breathe, to create an artistic masterpiece, and to enjoy everyday activities. The brain regulates your body’s basic functions, enables you to interpret and respond to everything you experience, and shapes your behavior. In short, your brain is youeverything you think and feel, and who you are.

How Does Drug Addiction Affect The Brain

  • How Does Drug Addiction Affect the Brain?
  • Drug addiction causes physical effects in the brain as well as psychological effects. Different types of drugs cause different reactions in the brain. The question How does drug addiction affect the brain? has been studied by scientists for decades, but some of the deepest effects are only becoming clear in recent years.

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    Studies Of Methamphetamine Users

    Many comparative studies have been conducted over the past several decades that assess how well observations of methamphetamines effects in animals are consistent with those in people, but these comparisons are often inconclusive about cause and effect because of their necessary experimental design. In the human studies, methamphetamine users and healthy control participants are recruited. Then each individual undergoes a single brain scan and completes a cognitive task battery. An advantage of this approach is that it allows researchers to determine brain or cognitive differences between the groups at the time of testing. Brain images, however, are typically collected at only a single time point for both groups of participants.

    This methodology makes it virtually impossible to determine whether methamphetamine use caused any observed differences, because preexisting differences between the two groups cannot be ruled out. Usually authors tend to adhere to the brain-disease model of addiction by attributing these differences to prolonged methamphetamine use, using words such as changes, reductions, deterioration, or atrophy, among others. This implication is clearly inappropriate, because these words imply a temporality that is not evaluated in these cross-sectional studies.

    Graph adapted from Johanson, et al. Psychopharmacology 186:620. Springer-Verlag 2006

    Why Do People Take Drugs

    Drug Addiction and the Brain

    In general, people take drugs for a few reasons:

    • To feel good. Drugs can produce intense feelings of pleasure. This initial euphoria is followed by other effects, which differ with the type of drug used. For example, with stimulants such as cocaine, the high is followed by feelings of power, self-confidence, and increased energy. In contrast, the euphoria caused by opioids such as heroin is followed by feelings of relaxation and satisfaction.
    • To feel better. Some people who suffer from social anxiety, stress, and depression start using drugs to try to feel less anxious. Stress can play a major role in starting and continuing drug use as well as relapse in patients recovering from addiction.
    • To do better. Some people feel pressure to improve their focus in school or at work or their abilities in sports. This can play a role in trying or continuing to use drugs, such as prescription stimulants or cocaine.
    • Curiosity and social pressure. In this respect, teens are particularly at risk because peer pressure can be very strong. Adolescence is a developmental period during which the presence of risk factors, such as peers who use drugs, may lead to substance use.

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    Brain Connections Are Rewired

    As the brain continues to adapt to the presence of the drug, regions outside of the reward pathway are also affected. Over time, brain regions responsible for judgment, decision-making, learning, and memory begin to physically change, making certain behaviors hard-wired. In some brain regions, connections between neurons are pruned back. In others, neurons form more connections.

    Once these changes take place, drug-seeking behavior becomes driven by habit, almost reflex. The drug user becomes a drug addict.

    Drug abuse causes fundamental, long-lasting changes in the brain. –Dr. Glen Hanson

    After cocaine use, connections between neurons in the nucleus accumbens, part of the reward pathway, increase in number, size, and strength.

    Effects Of Drug Addiction On The Brain

    All drugsnicotine, cocaine, marijuana and othersaffect the brains reward circuit, which is part of the limbic system. This area of the brain affects instinct and mood. Drugs target this system, which causes large amounts of dopaminea brain chemical that helps regulate emotions and feelings of pleasureto flood the brain. This flood of dopamine is what causes a high. Its one of the main causes of drug addiction.

    Although initial drug use may be voluntary, drugs can alter brain chemistry. This can actually change how the brain performs and interfere with a persons ability to make choices. It can lead to intense cravings and compulsive drug use. Over time, this behavior can turn into a substance dependency or drug and .

    Alcohol can have short- and long-term and disrupts the brains communication pathways. These can influence mood, behavior and other cognitive function.

    Brain damage may also occur through alcohol-induced nutrition deficiencies, alcohol-induced seizures and liver disease. In pregnant women, alcohol exposure can impact the brains of unborn babies, resulting in fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.

    It is reported that alcohol-induced brain problems can often be corrected with proper treatment. Abstinence from alcohol for months or years can help partially repair thinking abilities, like memory skills.

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    Fighting Addiction With Corner Canyon Health Centers

    Knowing the effects of addiction can motivate a person to quit drugs or alcohol, however, the physical changes in the brain make it very difficult for a person to stop using even if they want to. Although there is no cure for addiction, there is treatment and hope in recovery. If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction or a substance use disorder, do not be afraid to ask for help. Save a life and get help today.

    At Corner Canyon, our doors are open to adult clients seeking healing and transformation to put their lives on the path of recovery. We understand the effects of addiction on the brain and body. Our residential treatment center offers a warm and welcoming home environment paired with exceptional individualized clinical care utilizing the latest in scientific advancement for treating both mental health and addiction treatment. For information on our program contact us today. We can help you get the treatment you deserve and stop the effects of addiction in your life.

    Typical Adolescent Brain Development

    WSJ Graphics on Twitter: " How addiction affects the brain ...

    Adolescence marks a period of rapid development between childhood and adulthood involving complex social, biological, and psychological changes. The interactions of these multidimensional factors have considerable implications for adolescent development. Included in these alterations are substantial changes in the efficiency and specialization of the adolescent brain, which is accomplished through synaptic refinement and myelination . Synaptic refinement involves reductions in gray matter by eliminating unnecessary neural connections . During adolescence, this synaptic pruning occurs primarily in the prefrontal and temporal cortex and in subcortical structures such as the striatum, thalamus, and nucleus accumbens , . The adolescent brain also undergoes increased myelination, which allows for improved integrity of white matter fiber tracts and efficiency of neural conductivity . Higher-order association areas appear to develop only after lower-order sensorimotor regions fully mature , with frontal lobes being the final areas of the brain to complete development. Along with these neuromaturational changes, it is suggested that increased myelination allows for smoother, more efficient communication between frontal-subcortical brain regions, allowing for better top-down cognitive control in adolescence .

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    How Does Dopamine Reinforce Drug Use

    The feeling of pleasure is how a healthy brain identifies and reinforces beneficial behaviors, such as eating, socializing, and sex. Our brains are wired to increase the odds that we will repeat pleasurable activities. The neurotransmitter dopamine is central to this. Whenever the reward circuit is activated by a healthy,

    pleasurable experience, a burst of dopamine signals that something important is happening that needs to be remembered. This dopamine signal causes changes in neural connectivity that make it easier to repeat the activity again and again without thinking about it, leading to the formation of habits.

    Just as drugs produce intense euphoria, they also produce much larger surges of dopamine, powerfully reinforcing the connection between consumption of the drug, the resulting pleasure, and all the external cues linked to the experience. Large surges of dopamine teach the brain to seek drugs at the expense of other, healthier goals and activities.

    Reward Systems In 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.

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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.

    Can Drug And Alcohol Use Cause Brain Damage

    How Drug and Alcohol Abuse Affect the Brain

    Drugs and alcohol often serve as an escape from reality, and do so by changing the way the brain operates. Sometimes those changes result in permanent, irreversible brain damage.

    Drugs and alcohol are linked to countless diseases, injuries and medical conditions. Repeated substance use can lead to addiction, and long term health risks, including brain damage.

    Drugs and alcohol act as toxins to the body. They disrupt normal functioning in the brain, distorting reality and result in feelings of euphoria.

    Disrupting normal function in the brain is extremely dangerous, because, over time, these disruptions can become both semi-permanent and permanent. Repeated or long-term substance use raise these risks significantly.

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    Interferes And Changes Your Brains Chemical Signals Disrupting Regular Communication In The Brain

    The brain uses a system of cells called neurons to communicate, process, and send signals. The neurons use chemical signals, called neurotransmitters, to send the messages. These messages control your thinking, decisions, and behaviors.

    Many drugs interfere with this natural communication system. The drugs can prevent nerve cells from sending, receiving, or processing information as they usually would. When a person has an addiction, the substances alter the levels of neurotransmitters, which contributes to craving the drug, loss of control, and poor decision-making.

    For instance, some drugs are chemically similar to natural neurotransmitters. As a result, when the drug enters the brain, it imitates the natural neurotransmitter and tricks the brains receptors to send abnormal messages.

    Insights From Nuclear Medicine Imaging Techniques

    PET and SPECT brain imaging have perhaps shown their greatest value to date in helping researchers analyze how drugs affect the neurotransmitter systems that link and coordinate brain cells. Much of this work has focused on the dopamine system, but researchers also are exploring the roles of other neurotransmitters in drug abuse and drugs effects on cells energy consumption and health.

    Dopamine Plays Key Roles in Drug Abuse Euphoria and Addiction

    The neurotransmitter dopamine is highly concentrated in the striatum, which forms part of the brains reward system. Dopamine ebb and flow in these areas is a main determinant of how much pleasure we derive from our experiences it also helps us focus our attention on what is important. PET studies have linked the presence and actions of drugs of abuse in the brains reward system with their euphoric properties and their ability to preoccupy addicted individuals to the exclusion of naturally rewarding activities .

    PET: Cocaine activity in the striatum underlies the cocaine high

    After study subjects were given cocaine, PET showed that their reports of how high they felt rose and fell in very close parallel with the passage of the drug in and out of the brain area called the striatum .

    PET: Cocaine causes dopamine buildup in the synapse

    Chronic Methamphetamine Abuse Depletes Dopamine Function

    Stimulants Reduce Cellular Activity in Brain Areas Affecting Judgment

    PET: Cocaine markedly reduces dopamine D2 receptor availability

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    Changes The Brains Reward Circuit Increasing Drug

    Your brain is designed to motivate you to repeat healthy experiences that make you feel good, like eating or socializing. Unfortunately, drugs can disrupt and take over the pleasure/reward circuits in your brain. As a result, the substances take over and cause the brain to crave more of the drug.

    Drugs can cause your brains reward circuit to be flooded with dopamine. Dopamine is associated with feelings of pleasure. It helps reinforce behaviors, like eating. But in the case of addiction, it causes the person to need to keep seeking their drug of choice to reexperience the surge in dopamine.

    The longer someone uses a drug, the stronger the neural connection. The brain becomes addicted.

    Additionally, drugs tend to be stronger reinforcers than natural reinforcers like food. As a result, people will place a higher priority on using drugs than other everyday activities.

    Over time, the reward circuit also adapts to the drug. As a result, it takes more of the substance to achieve the pleasurable feeling. Therefore, people tend to keep using more of the drug the longer they are addicted. This process is one of the reasons its hard for people with drug addiction to stop.

    Is Drug Addiction A Brain Disease

    Addiction: Causes and Natural Treatments

      The notion that drug addiction is a brain disease has become axiomatic. Around the globe aspiring health professionals treating substance abuse are indoctrinated with this belief, especially after the idea became popular in the 1990s. Its popularity extends far beyond the hallowed halls of academia. Both the May 1997 Time and the September 2017 National Geographic magazines were dedicated to the brain science of addiction. Numerous other popular magazines have run similar cover stories over the past two decades.

      But after 20 years of research, one of us saw that paradigm yielding dismal results. Meanwhile, behavioral research on outcomes after providing both animals and humans with attractive alternatives to drugs has yielded positive results regarding effective treatments, despite the lack of mainstream attention. This observation prompted Hart to refocus his research on these behavioral treatments. So in 2016 we teamed up to reexamine the prevailing assumptions supporting the brain-disease model of addiction and the data behind those assumptions. Like many other people in addiction research, coauthor Grifell had not directly questioned this paradigm until teaming up with Hart and digging into the evidence. Brain-imaging data from methamphetamine-addicted users provide the strongest support for the prevailing paradigm but still can be interpreted in other ways.

      Brian Hubble

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