Thursday, May 30, 2024

Addiction In The Brain How It Works

Is It Possible To Heal A Damaged Brain After Addiction

How an Addicted Brain Works

The brain has an astounding ability to adapt despite the brain damage even after addiction. Having said that, the amount of healing depends on the severity of the condition and the individuals commitment to recovery.

When going through a brain rewiring treatment program, it is important to follow through the steps even after leaving the confines of the rehab facility. This will ensure you that there is a continuous reshaping of the brain away from its substance-seeking tendencies and towards sobriety.

What Parts Of The Brain Are Affected By Drug Use

Drugs can alter important brain areas that are necessary for life-sustaining functions and can drive the compulsive drug use that marks addiction. Brain areas affected by drug use include:

Some drugs like opioids also disrupt other parts of the brain, such as the brain stem, which controls basic functions critical to life, including heart rate, breathing, and sleeping. This interference explains why overdoses can cause depressed breathing and death.

Addiction Affects Specific Regions In The Brain

There are specific areas in the brain that addiction alters. We know this because of advances in imaging technology of brain functions. âStructural changes of the brain can be seen on MRI and PET scans of the brain,â says Lev.

The regions of the brain most affected by addiction are the prefrontal cortex, the basal ganglia, and the amygdala, according to the US Surgeon Generalâs Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health. The clinical impact of these changes include the following:

  • An increased susceptibility to cues in the environment that trigger you to want to drink or use.
  • A decreased sensitivity to normal levels of pleasure.
  • An increased activation of the parts of the brain that respond to stress.
  • A decrease in executive control, meaning your ability to make decisions, control emotions, and curb impulses is compromised.

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Addiction And Dopamine Receptors

Studies of dopamine receptors are helping to shed light on the physiology of craving. There are two major classes of dopamine receptors, according to David Self, of Yale University. He calls them Dl-like and D2-like. Self and his colleagues, who study addiction in rats, report that the two receptor types have certain structural similarities and that their within-cell signaling systems are similar, but they have different anatomical profiles: They tend to be in the same brain regions, but sometimes on different cell types.

Self and his colleagues have found evidence that these two classes of dopamine receptors also function differently in addiction in rats. Craving and relapse seem to involve D2 activation almost exclusively, although both receptors are activated during reinforcement. Self hypothesizes that each receptor is involved in a different motivational phase of the reinforcement process, which he calls appetitive and consumatory . I like to use the terms seeking and having. You can think of D2 receptors as stimulating seeking, whereas Dl receptors stimulate having, he says.

Thus, D2 activation increased drug craving while Dl activation did not, Haney acknowledges. She is not, however, convinced that Self’s hypothesis is correct because she suspects that, at the low doses she used, pergolide acted selectively at the D2 receptor, yet, like ABT-431, it did not affect self-administration.

Addiction Is Classified As A Brain Disease

Addiction: Causes and Natural Treatments

A good starting point is to realize that doctors classify addiction as a brain disease. âAddiction is considered a chronic relapsing disease of the brain,â Roneet Lev, MD, a board certified addiction physician and host of the High Truths on Drugs and Addiction podcast, tells WebMD Connect to Care. âIt is a chronic disease like diabetes, hypertension, and asthma.â

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Addiction Is A Disease Of The Brain

While the American Psychiatric Association defines addiction as a chronic brain disease that causes compulsive substance abuse, the exact cause of this disease is still being debated. But one thing is certainour environment impacts the way our brains work . More simply put, what you think, consume, and do will determine the severity of your addiction.

Most individuals with addiction also suffer from other disorders including ADHD and OCD. The same brain regions are involving in most of these conditions, including addiction. Whether developmental in nature, related to injury, or otherwise, there is most often measurable compromise in cognitive networks in the brain that deal with attention, motivation, memory, impulse control, decision making and reasoning.

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What Else Should You Know About The Addicted Brain

Another thing you should know about drug addiction is that it can physically alter the structure of the brain. While you may know that being addicted to drugs can change the way a person acts and thinks, you may not know that some drugs can seriously damage some parts of the brain. As mentioned before, drugs can keep the brain from producing dopamine on its own, which can cause all sorts of problems.

But there are plenty of problems that go beyond that. Hard drugs like alcohol, meth, and heroin can alter the structure of the brain, especially parts that are responsible for mood and memory. This is also likely due to how the drugs affect the brains production of dopamine, which is partially responsible for memory.

Many people who abuse drugs for long periods of time experience memory problems. Even if they get sober, they may still have memory problems due to how the drugs damage the portions of the brain responsible for memory. As a result, these people may have difficulty memorizing new information and recalling old information.

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Effects Of Drugs On The Brain & Neurotransmitters

Mind-altering drugs may slow down or speed up the central nervous system and autonomic functions necessary for living, such as blood pressure, respiration, heart rate, and body temperature. Levels of some of the brains chemical messengers, or neurotransmitters, are also impacted by drug abuse, including:

  • Dopamine: This neurotransmitter regulates moods, enhances pleasure, and is involved with movement, reward and reinforcing behaviors, motivation, and attention.
  • Drugs that can impact dopamine levels: Marijuana, heroin & other opioids, stimulants, ecstasy, PCP
  • Serotonin: This neurotransmitter is responsible for stabilizing moods and regulating emotions.
  • Drugs that can impact serotonin levels: ecstasy and hallucinogens
  • Gamma-aminobutyric acid : GABA acts as a natural tranquilizer, mitigating the stress response and lowering anxiety levels as well as slowing down functions of the central nervous system.
  • Drugs that can impact GABA levels: benzodiazepines
  • Norepinephrine: Similar to adrenaline, norepinephrine is often called the stress hormone, as it speeds up the central nervous system in response to the fight-or-flight response. It also homes focus and attention while increasing energy levels.
  • Drugs that can impact norepinephrine levels: opioids and ecstasy
  • Summing Up The Mechanism Of Addiction In The Brain

    The Science of Addiction and The Brain

    As mentioned before, addiction is caused by the brain releasing dopamine in a large quantity during a particular action and demanding more and more of that as time goes by. Therefore, anything that causes pleasure can become addictive.

    People can get addicted to the rush of endorphins from exercise and wind up damaging themselves. Sex addicts are drawn to the high created from the sensations created during the act. Alcoholics find peace and solace in the drunken stupors where thoughts arent as prevalent. Anything that releases dopamine has the potential to become addictive.

    Treatment for addiction is definitely possible. Its important to remember that no one actively seeks out an addiction. Its a process thats largely out of their control since they often cant tell the difference between liking and needs.

    But once professional help is sought, they stand every chance in the world of overcoming their addiction and returning to a healthy lifestyle and a healthy dopamine enjoyment.

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    How Do Drugs Produce Pleasure

    Pleasure or euphoriathe high from drugsis still poorly understood, but probably involves surges of chemical signaling compounds including the bodys natural opioids and other neurotransmitters in parts of the basal ganglia . When some drugs are taken, they can cause surges of these neurotransmitters much greater than the smaller bursts naturally produced in association with healthy rewards like eating, hearing or playing music, creative pursuits, or social interaction.

    It was once thought that surges of the neurotransmitter dopamine produced by drugs directly caused the euphoria, but scientists now think dopamine has more to do with getting us to repeat pleasurable activities than with producing pleasure directly.

    Heroin And Prescription Opioids

    Heroin and prescription opioid drugs like OxyContin , Vicodin , fentanyl, methadone, and Dilaudid bind to opioid receptors in the brain and trigger the release of dopamine. In a sense, these drugs hijack the limbic system in the brain, inducing a powerful high that individuals are often keen to recreate, leading to reinforcing behaviors. Opioid drugs are considered highly addictive, as ASAM publishes that almost a quarter of heroin users will suffer from addiction to opioids. Over 2.5 million Americans battled opioid addiction in 2015. Heroin is considered the fastest-acting opioid, taking effect nearly immediately and making it extremely addictive, the Drug Enforcement Administration warns. When someone takes an opioid drug repeatedly, they can develop a tolerance to it as the body gets used to its interaction in the brain. Individuals may then take more of the drug to feel the desired effects. The brain will then stop functioning as it did before introduction of the opioid, causing levels of dopamine to drop when the drug wears off.

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    The Changes In The Brain May Be Reversible

    The good news is that the structural damage caused with drug use may be reversible. Time alone without drugs will start the process of brain restructuring. How long it takes will depend on how long you used drugs and what you were taking.

    There is also robust evidence that various drugs, some of which have been approved by the FDA, can help alleviate the physical symptoms of detox, withdrawal, and drug dependence. For example, the medication naltrexone is regularly and successfully used to help people quit alcohol and opioids.

    Medication-assisted treatment also typically includes therapy, which can significantly improve the recovery of your brain. For instance, psychotherapy can positively affect the areas of your brain that help control emotions, cognition, and memory.

    Physical exercise is another way to accelerate your brainâs healing after addiction. Exercise improves executive control and brain blood flow, according to the Recovery Research Institute.

    How Does Addiction Affect The Body

    How Addiction Hijacks the Brain

    It has a lot to do with brain chemistry.

    The human brain is wired to reward us when we do something pleasurable. Exercising, eating, and other behaviors that are directly linked to our survival trigger the release of a neurotransmitter called dopamine.

    This not only makes us feel good, but it encourages us to keep doing what were doing. It teaches our brains to repeat the behavior.

    Drugs trigger that same part of the brain: the reward system. When someone uses a substancebe it marijuana, opioids, cocaine, or other drugstheir brain releases lots of dopamine. This process tells the brain that this is a behavior that should be remembered and repeated.

    Not everyone who uses substances becomes addicted by this process, but if youre already at risk, this is where the cycle of addiction can begin. Thats because, according to the National Institutes on Drug Abuse , large surges of dopamine teach the brain to seek drugs at the expense of other, healthier goals and activities.

    Once someone is addicted, theyre not using drugs to feel good theyre using drugs to feel normal.

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    • Pappas, Stephanie. . This Is Your Brain On Drugs . Retrieved On June 18, 2019 at
    • Saplakoglu, Yasemin. . How Drug Addiction Hijacks The Brian. Retrieved On June 18, 2019 at
    • . . Whats The Difference Between Biofeedback And Neurofeedback? Retrieved On June 18, 2019 at
    • Dimeff, Linda. Linehan, Marsha. . Dialectical Behavior Therapy For Substance Abuse. Retrieved On June 18, 2019 at
    • Gray, Sarah. . An Overview of The Use Of Neurofeedback Biofeedback For The Treatment Of Symptoms Of Traumatic Brain Injury In Military And Civilian Populations. Retrieved On June 18, 2019 at

    Reviewed by Certified Addiction Professional: July 15, 2019

    David Hampton

    • A survivor of addiction himself, David Hampton is a Certified Professional Recovery Coach and a member of the National Association of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselors .

    • More from David Hampton

    Is A View Of Addiction As A Brain Disease Deterministic

    A common criticism of the notion that addiction is a brain disease is that it is reductionist and in the end therefore deterministic . This is a fundamental misrepresentation. As indicated above, viewing addiction as a brain disease simply states that neurobiology is an undeniable component of addiction. A reason for deterministic interpretations may be that modern neuroscience emphasizes an understanding of proximal causality within research designs . That does not in any way reflect a superordinate assumption that neuroscience will achieve global causality. On the contrary, since we realize that addiction involves interactions between biology, environment and society, ultimate prediction of behavior based on an understanding of neural processes alone is neither expected, nor a goal.

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    Are There Things That Can Trigger Addiction

    The exact cause of addiction is not known because every addiction is different. Addiction is a habit that rules your life. You can get addicted to almost anything, even sports or vegetables. When something gives you the such great pleasure that you seek it more and more, its an addiction. There is a link between environment and addiction. Someone who grows up in a household with addicts is likely to be addicted even if they are not genetically related. Substance abuse can be a learned behavior. Common addictions are substances like alcohol, but you can also get addicted to television, video games, or other activities that stimulate the brain and make you habit-forming.

    Disclaimer: The statements, opinions, and data contained in these publications are solely those of the individual authors and contributors and not of Credihealth and the editor.

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    How Can I Join A Clinical Trial


    Since DBS isnât approved for addiction, the only way to get it today is in a clinical trial. Talk to your doctor to see if you might be a candidate to take part in a clinical trial of DBS for an addiction. You can also search for clinical trials near you at

    The clinical studies that are happening now are mostly small pilot studies. For example, researchers running one pilot study testing DBS for opioid use disorder only plan to enroll three people. Theyâll look to see if it helps people stop using opioids for 6 months and then 1 year, but the main goal is to see if it looks safe to use DBS for opioid use disorder. If the results are good and it seems safe, then researchers would move on to larger studies testing DBS in more people.

    To be eligible for a trial testing DBS for addiction, youâd have to meet many different requirements such as:

    • A long history of substance use disorder
    • Not getting better with multiple other approved treatments for substance use disorders
    • Survived an overdose or other serious complications related to substance use
    • Relapsed after treatment with therapy and medicines

    You wonât be able to be in a trial if you have a history of brain surgery, attempted suicide, or certain other conditions.

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    How The Brain Gets Hooked

    Look at the brain as a puzzle with sections and structures and connections. There are three distinct areas of brain: the forebraininner most part midbrainuppermost part and hindbrainupperpart of spinal cord. Each section is made up of structures that are responsible for numerous functions. Well focus on the forebrain and the midbrain.

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    What Can You Do To Help Repair Your Brain

    #1. Detox

    • When you remove drugs from your body, you give your brain a fresh start to restore its balance. At first, your brain and body will be thrown out of alignment by the sudden change. At that point, you might experience some symptoms of withdrawal. But as you continue and complete the detoxification process, you stimulate a re-adjustment of your brains natural chemical balance. You might think of detox as a way to jumpstart your brain just as you would jumpstart a car. Drugs have caused your brain to temporarily malfunction. Once your body and brain are free of drugs, however, you are able to jumpstart your brain and prepare it for treatment, where you will learn to ignore drug cravings and adjust to functioning without drugs in your life.

    #2. Participate in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

    #3. Take Up Mindfulness & Meditation

    Another study found that mindfulness and mediation can lessen the risk of relapse. Other benefits of Mindfulness can include:

    • Increasing the amount of grey matter in your brain, which helps your sensory perception, including eyesight and hearing. Increased grey matter also helps you make healthier decisions and exhibit self-control.
    • Increasing the cortical thickness in the hippocampus, which increases your memory and ability to learn new habits and behaviors.

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