Addiction: A Choice Or A Disease
Many people are misinformed about the disease of addiction. They commonly believe that addiction is a choice and that addicts simply choose this lifestyle.
Addiction does start with a choice the choice to try a drug or a drink. However, after a certain period of time or even after the first use that choice is no longer there. Losing the choice to use or not use is never the intended outcome. No one wakes up thinking to themselves, Im going to become an addict.
The difference between someone who is or isnt an addict comes down to the loss of choice. Someone who continues to choose to use a drug, but stops after facing consequences likely doesnt have this disease. On the other hand, someone who continues using regardless of the outcome likely has a substance abuse problem.
Losing the choice to use or drink isnt because of a lack of willpower or a lesser moral compass. It is actually controlled by the brain.
For Information And Support
If you are concerned for yourself or a loved one regarding substance abuse and/ or addiction, we recommend reaching out for help as soon as possible. If left untreated, substance abuse can result in long-lasting and potentially life-threatening consequences. Keep in mind: you are not alone! There is an entire network of professionals that are available to help and support you and your loved one throughout the recovery process. The earlier you seek support, the sooner your loved one can return to a happy, healthy, and fulfilling life.
Please do not hesitate to reach out with any questions regarding our specific program at Haven House Addiction Treatment and/ or general substance abuse and/ or addiction treatment-related information. Our highly trained staff is readily available to discuss how we might best be able to help you and your loved one. We can be reached by phone at 424-318-3777. You are also welcome to contact anytime us via email at
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How Long Does It Take The Brain To Recover From Addiction
The brain has billions of neurons, which connect via neural pathways. As children develop and learn, their brains create and change these pathways, a process known as neuroplasticity, with relative ease. At approximately age twenty-five, the brain has developed the majority of its neural pathways its plasticity is significantly reduced.
The brain uses neural pathways as efficiently as possible, allowing repetitive tasks to become automatic or habitual. The frequent use of the same circuits embeds them deeper into the brain, making it more difficult to alter their routes. Imagine dragging a scissors blade across cardboard along the same line over and over the groove gets more pronounced. Fortunately, the brain is more flexible than cardboard. Although adults need more time and effort to change neural pathways than a child does, adults can change their brains.
Changing the adult brain is essential for individuals who engage in addictive behaviors. Even in a high-tech society, humans still behave on the pleasure-reward system our early ancestors used for survival. The brain releases dopamine, the feel-good neurotransmitter when an action, event, or emotion is satisfying or pleasurable. To get more of that good feeling, humans repeat that stimulating action or thought.
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You Can Gain Control And Improve The Function Of The Brain
The brain and addiction may be complex, but there is help available. Researchers have developed a better understanding of the way the brain learns and changes. As a result, using therapy, medications, and the right supportive structure, its possible to get the brain back to working normally again.
This is best done in a treatment program like the one we offer at San Antonio Recovery Center. Here, youll work to overcome the challenges you face with withdrawal and cravings while also working to resolve the underlying cause of addiction. We do this through a number of programs, including:
- Mens drug addiction rehab
- Womens drug addiction rehab
- Intensive outpatient program
Motivation/drive Circuit In Addiction
We postulate that, during addiction, the value of the drug as a reinforcer is so much greater than that of any natural reinforcer that these can no longer compete as viable alternative choices, and the enhanced saliency value of the drug becomes fixed. This contrasts with natural reinforcers, whose saliency is momentary and decreases with exposure to the reinforcer or with the presentation of an alternative, more appealing reinforcer. One area of the brain that is involved in shifting the relative value of reinforcers is the OFC .
In detoxified drug abusers, the decreased activity in the OFC is associated with reductions in the numbers of DA D2 receptors in striatum . Since DA D2 receptors transmit reward signals into the OFC, this association could be interpreted as a disruption of the OFC, secondary to changes in striatal DA activity . However, since striatal-frontal connections are bidirectional, this association could also reflect the disruption of the OFC, which then deregulates DA cell activity.
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Different Classes Of Substances Affect The Brain And Behavior In Different Ways
Although the three stages of addiction generally apply to all addictive substances, different substances affect the brain and behavior in different ways during each stage of the addiction cycle. Differences in the pharmacokinetics of various substances determine the duration of their effects on the body and partly account for the differences in their patterns of use. For example, nicotine has a short half-life, which means smokers need to smoke often to maintain the effect. In contrast, THC, the primary psychoactive compound in marijuana, has a much longer half-life. As a result, marijuana smokers do not typically smoke as frequently as tobacco smokers. Typical patterns of use are described below for the major classes of addictive substances. However, people often use these substances in combination. Additional research is needed to understand how using more than one substance affects the brain and the development and progression of addiction, as well as how use of one substance affects the use of others.
What Part Of The Brain Controls Addiction
Youve likely already learned that addiction is a disease. You may realize that your loved one cant just quit using drugs or alcohol no matter the outcome. What you may not understand is the part of the brain controls addiction.
Were going to take a look at how the brain controls addiction and what causes people to continue using regardless of consequences. Keep reading for a better understanding the disease.
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How Addiction Starts: How Addiction Affects The Brain
Alcoholism and drug addiction are conditions that compel someone to continue using mind altering substances, despite negative consequences or harm to their friends, family, financial, emotional, and physical health. While the term disease gets thrown around quite often in addiction discussions, a slightly more specific term may be more correct: a brain disease. This has to do with how addiction starts and how addiction affects the brain of a recreational drug user.
When you ingest alcohol, or any drug for that matter, it affects almost every part of the brain, but it effects a few specific regions more often than not, however, we will take a closer look at what part of the brain controls addiction further on in this article. Before we touch on that, we need to look at how addiction starts, and why seemingly harmless recreational use can spiral into a full blown substance abuse problem the very first time you ingest a mind altering substance.
Addiction Is A Treatable Medical Illness
First things first: Addiction is not a moral failing, a choice, or a character flaw. Addiction, also referred to as substance use disorder, is an illness. All major health experts agree: The American Medical Association, The National Institutes of Health, the World Health Organization, and more.
Treatment for addiction is highly effective. Decades of scientific research show what treatments work bestbut one size does not fit all. From personalized plans to therapy and medications, learn what to look for in addiction treatment.
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In Summary: The Binge/intoxication Stage And The Basal Ganglia
The reward circuitry of the basal ganglia , along with dopamine and naturally occurring opioids, play a key role in the rewarding effects of alcohol and other substances and the ability of stimuli, or cues, associated with that substance use to trigger craving, substance seeking, and use.
As alcohol or substance use progresses, repeated activation of the habit circuitry of the basal ganglia contributes to the compulsive substance seeking and taking that are associated with addiction.
The involvement of these reward and habit neurocircuits helps explain the intense desire for the substance and the compulsive substance seeking that occurs when actively or previously addicted individuals are exposed to alcohol and/or drug cues in their surroundings.
Addiction And The Dopamine Transporter
Although the details may have been disputed, the central role of dopamine in addiction nevertheless seemed firmly established. And then last May came research that appeared at first glance to contradict the notion that dopamine underlies addiction. The leading hypothesis for how cocaine works in the brain appears to be wrong, said The New York Times. The headline in Nature Neuroscience asked: Hard knocks for the dopamine hypothesis?
Caron points out that pharmacologists have known for a number of years that many psychostimulants are capable of blocking not only the ability of the dopamine transporter to re-uptake dopamine and therefore increase extracellular dopamine concentration, but also the ability of the norepinephrine transporter to re-uptake norepinephrine and the ability of the serotonin transporter to re-uptake serotonin. Previously, the effects on other neurotransmitter systems were not thought to be important because many of the reward mechanisms can be blocked by blocking the dopamine system.
What the study suggests, Caron says, is that addiction does not depend solely on the ability of cocaine to raise the concentration of dopamine. It’s probably much more that cocaine interacts with many other systems, he says, noting the possibility that norepinephrine might also be involved.
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The Neuroanatomical Shift From Cognition To Habit
In addition to early demonstrations using the plus-maze , the behavioral shift to habit memory was later demonstrated using operant lever pressing paradigms . In these instrumental learning tasks, animals initially lever press purposefully in order to obtain the outcome and will cease lever pressing once the food outcome is devalued. However, following extensive training animals will shift to habitual responding and will continue pressing the lever even after the food outcome has been devalued . As originally demonstrated in the plus-maze , the transition from cognition to habit in instrumental learning tasks might also be attributed to a neuroanatomical shift. The initial cognitive control of behavior in these instrumental learning tasks is mediated by the hippocampus and DMS , whereas later habitual responding is mediated by the DLS .
Numerous investigators have suggested that the neuroanatomical shift to habit memory demonstrated in maze and instrumental learning tasks might also underlie the shift from recreational drug use to compulsive drug abuse . Consistent with this hypothesis, investigators have demonstrated for a variety of abused substances that the DMS mediates goal-directed responding for drug reinforcement and the DLS mediates habitual responding for drug reinforcement .
The Multiple Memory Systems View Of Addiction
Converging evidence from studies employing humans and lower animals indicates that mammalian memory is mediated by relatively independent neural systems . The early experiments dissociating multiple memory systems were primarily conducted in the radial maze and indicated unique mnemonic functions for the hippocampus, dorsal striatum, and amygdala . The hippocampus mediates a cognitive/spatial form of memory, whereas the dorsal striatum mediates stimulusresponse habit memory. The amygdala mediates Pavlovian and stimulus-affect-associative relationships , while also subserving the modulatory role of emotional arousal on other types of memory .
Figure 1. Whites multiple memory systems view of drug addiction. Like natural reinforcers, addictive drugs possess several reinforcer actions, including the ability to invoke positive/negative affect, approach, and modulation of memory systems. The amygdala, caudateputamen , and hippocampus mediate dissociable memory systems, and each memory system presumably encodes unique components of drug-related memories. Given their memory modulatory properties, addictive drugs can potentially enhance their own self-administration by enhancing the function of these systems.
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Addiction Alters Impulse Control And Judgment
The brain function determines behavior, so its reasonable to see a change in brain function can change a persons behavior. For instance, the areas of impulse control and judgment are affected by drinking and drug use. Not being able to stop using substances can come from a loss of impulse control and judgment, even when you know, its harmful to you. For someone whos already in recovery, these changes to the brain can lead to relapse.
What Structures Make Up The Reward System Of The Brain
The brain is certainly no easy topic to understand and probably not something youll be an expert in after reading a single blog post! So, when we talk about the reward center of the brain, its easier to think of it as a well-oiled machine that requires many different parts to make it run.
These various parts include the following structures of the brain:
- The Striatum The striatum is a nucleus in the basil ganglia that plays a critical role in reward perception, motivation, reinforcement, planning and decision-making. This part of the brain is what immediately tells you to repeat or stay away from a stimulus.
- The Ventral Tegmental Area The VTA is located in the midbrain and is one of the two major areas in the brain that produces the neurotransmitter called dopamine.
- The Nucleus Accumbens The nucleus accumbens is a part of the striatum in the basal forebrain. It receives dopamine neurons from the VAT, processes them and motivates behaviors.
- The Amygdala The amygdala is a small, almond-shaped grouping of neurons located in the medial temporal lobe. Its key responsibility is the processing of emotions.
- The Hippocampus The hippocampus is known as the brains learning and memory center, responsible for declarative memory formation and critical for learning and emotions.
- The Prefrontal Cortex The prefrontal cortex is located in the front part of the frontal lobe. It plays a key role in decision making, cognitive behaviors and reasoning.
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How Does Addiction Hijack The Brain
The very fast and very intense flood of dopamine generated by taking a drug of abuse motivates repetition of the drug-taking. Under the influence of dopamine, that repetition changes the wiring of the brain in ways to increase the drug-wanting and decrease the ability to regulate the drug usage. What starts as a choice becomes so deeply wired into the brain that the machinery of desire operates automatically, and the machinery of attention narrows focus to the drug and getting it. The brain loses the capacity to respond to other potentially rewarding activities. The desire for reward ultimately becomes a prison from which it is difficultbut not impossibleto escape.
How Does A Drug Overdose Affect The Brain
Permanent damage to the brain can occur from a nonlethal drug overdose. Prescription opioids used to treat pain and the illicit drug heroin can have a depressant effect on the respiratory system, slowing the delivery of oxygen to the brain. Lack of oxygen, or hypoxia, poses a significant risk of brain injury.
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Addiction Changes The Brain
Long-term substance use creates changes to the brain in key regions and related to specific functions. These brain changes make ending substance use more challenging for a person. For example, routine substance use affects the basal ganglias function for motor control, executive functions and behaviors, and emotions. Basal ganglia can adapt to substance use as a motivation and help form the habit.
Substance use can also affect the extended amygdala, making the part of the brain which helps regulate stressful feelings like anxiety, irritability, and uneasiness far more sensitive. The amygdala then communicates that more substance use is the path to relief from these stressful feelings. Addiction also affects the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain thats responsible for the ability to plan, think, solve problems, make decisions, and exhibit self-control.
Programs For First Nations And Inuit
First Nations communities looking for help with problematic substance use have access to two programs funded by the Government of Canada:
- National Native Alcohol and Drug Abuse Program
- National Youth Solvent Abuse Program
- Foundry Foundry offers young people ages 12-24 health and wellness resources, services and supports online and through integrated service centres in seven communities across BC.
- Provides access to information on mental health, mental disorders, and substance use problems and disorders.
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Why Do People Keep Taking Drugs When They Know Theyre Bad For You
Drugs change the brain in ways that make quitting hard, even when you want to. This is because when you take drugs, the neurotransmitter dopamine is released in the basal ganglia in large amounts. Dopamine signals in this brain area “teach” other parts of your brain to keep seeking out the drug so you can take it again and again.
When people cant stop using drugs even though they want to, and drug use is causing serious consequences, it is called addiction. Their brain has learned to crave the drug all the time.
Learn more: See our latest updates on drugs and your brain.
Addiction Increases The Strength And Intensity Of Conditioned Responses
One conditioned response to stress can be drinking. When a person feels stressed and resorts to alcohol to cope with those feelings, theyre shaping future responses in the same way. This kind of brain change produces stronger cravings for alcohol or other drugs. It can also intensify negative emotions when substances are unavailable. Someone whose brain only focuses on the conditioned response of alcohol or drugs wont seek out other ways to cope with strong negative feelings or cravings.
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