What Does Addiction Do To The Brain
Addiction impacts the brain on many levels. The chemical compounds in Stimulants, Nicotine, Opioids, alcohol, and Sedatives enter the brain and bloodstream upon use. Once a chemical enters the brain, it can cause people to lose control of their impulses or crave a harmful substance.
When someone develops an addiction, the brain craves the reward of the substance. This is due to the intense stimulation of the brains reward system. In response, many users continue use of the substance this can lead to a host of euphoric feelings and strange behavioral traits. Long-term addiction can have severe outcomes, such as brain damage, and can even result in death.
How Addiction Affects The Brain
Dr. Ashish Bhatt, MD explains how addiction affects the brain, and how different substances can alter the brains chemistry.
What Medications And Devices Help Treat Drug Addiction
Different types of medications may be useful at different stages of treatment to help a patient stop abusing drugs, stay in treatment, and avoid relapse.
- Treating withdrawal. When patients first stop using drugs, they can experience various physical and emotional symptoms, including restlessness or sleeplessness, as well as depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions. Certain treatment medications and devices reduce these symptoms, which makes it easier to stop the drug use.
- Staying in treatment. Some treatment medications and mobile applications are used to help the brain adapt gradually to the absence of the drug. These treatments act slowly to help prevent drug cravings and have a calming effect on body systems. They can help patients focus on counseling and other psychotherapies related to their drug treatment.
- Preventing relapse. Science has taught us that stress cues linked to the drug use , and contact with drugs are the most common triggers for relapse. Scientists have been developing therapies to interfere with these triggers to help patients stay in recovery.
This Theory Promotes Social Injustice
Disproportionately viewing drug addiction through the brain-disease lens contributes to unrealistic, costly, and harmful drug policies. If the real problem with drug addiction, for example, is the interaction between the drug itself and an individuals brain, then the solution to this problem lies in one of two approaches: Either remove the drug from society through policies and law enforcement , or focus exclusively on the addicted individuals brain as the problem. In both cases, there is neither genuine need for nor interest in understanding the role of socioeconomic factors in maintaining drug use or mediating drug addiction.
The entire removal of recreational psychoactive substances from society is both impractical and impossible. There has never in history been a drug-free society, and it is unlikely that there ever will be one. In spite of this fact, law enforcement is charged with the unenviable task of carrying out repressive recreational drug-use policies that emphasize abstinence. Despite the claim that viewing addiction as a brain disease would lessen stigma and reduce drug-related arrests, millions of people are arrested annually for drug possession. In the United States, for example, 2016 data from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation indicate there were 1.5 million annual drug arrests, a number that hasnt appreciably changed since 1996.
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The Biochemistry Of Addiction
The brain responds to addiction based on a number of factors, such as the type and number of drugs used, the frequency of use, and the stage of addiction that has developed. If someone uses Cocaine, for example, they will notice a feeling of euphoria. This occurs because Cocaine is Psychoactive and impacts the area of the brain that controls pleasure and motivation. There is a short and powerful burst of dopamine, the chemical that causes many to feel euphoric. This feeling can be so intense that a strong desire to continue using may form.
The more someone abuses a drug, the more they may continue using it unless they get help overcoming a life-threatening addiction. Once the chemical has affected the brain, individuals can feel physical symptoms as well as the impact of the chemical throughout their nervous system. Symptoms can include a rapid heartbeat, paranoia, nausea, hallucinations, and other disturbing sensations the individual has little control over. He or she may become consumed with abusing the substance to maintain their habit no matter the cost. As a result of this powerful grip of substance abuse, individuals can begin acting in unrecognizable ways this may concern friends and family.
Common Questions About Rehab
What Biological Factors Increase The Risk Of Addiction
Biological factors that can affect a persons risk of addiction include their genes, stage of development, and even gender or ethnicity. Scientists estimate that genes, including the effects environmental factors have on a persons gene expression, called epigenetics, account for between 40 and 60 percent of a persons risk of addiction.27 Also, teens and people with mental disorders are at greater risk of drug use and addiction than others.28
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What Environmental Factors Increase The Risk Of Addiction
- 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 childrens 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
Is Drug Addiction A Brain Disease
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.
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How Addiction Affects Behavior Over Time
Long-term drug abuse impairs self-control and affects decision-making, judgment, memory, and learning. Individuals may act on intense drug-seeking impulses, engage in behavior that spreads infectious diseases, and behave in a manner that harms their personal relationships. The prefrontal cortex, which develops during adolescence and well into adulthood, is especially vulnerable, so drug use at an early age can have more drastic and long-lasting effects.
How Do The Best Treatment Programs Help Patients Recover From Addiction
Stopping drug use is just one part of a long and complex recovery process. When people enter treatment, addiction has often caused serious consequences in their lives, possibly disrupting their health and how they function in their family lives, at work, and in the community.
Because addiction can affect so many aspects of a persons life, treatment should address the needs of the whole person to be successful. Counselors may select from a menu of services that meet the specific medical, mental, social, occupational, family, and legal needs of their patients to help in their recovery.
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 Do Behavioral Therapies Treat Drug Addiction
Behavioral therapies help people in drug addiction treatment modify their attitudes and behaviors related to drug use. As a result, patients are able to handle stressful situations and various triggers that might cause another relapse. Behavioral therapies can also enhance the effectiveness of medications and help people remain in treatment longer.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy seeks to help patients recognize, avoid, and cope with the situations in which theyre most likely to use drugs.
- Contingency management uses positive reinforcement such as providing rewards or privileges for remaining drugfree, for attending and participating in counseling sessions, or for taking treatment medications as prescribed.
- Motivational enhancement therapy uses strategies to make the most of peoples readiness to change their behavior and enter treatment.
- Family therapy helps people with drug use problems, as well as their families, address influences on drug use patterns and improve overall family functioning.
- Twelve-step facilitation is an individual therapy typically delivered in 12 weekly session to prepare people to become engaged in 12-step mutual support programs. 12-step programs, like Alcoholic Anonymous, are not medical treatments, but provide social and complementary support to those treatments. TSF follows the 12-step themes of acceptance, surrender, and active involvement in recovery.
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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 making poor decisions, such as 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.
Below you will find a 7-minute film describing the pathology of addiction according to the theories presented in Dr. Ronald Rudens book The Craving Brain.
NIDA. . Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction
Why Are Drugs More Addictive Than Natural Rewards
For the brain, the difference between normal rewards and drug rewards can be likened to the difference between someone whispering into your ear and someone shouting into a microphone. Just as we turn down the volume on a radio that is too loud, the brain of someone who misuses drugs adjusts by producing fewer neurotransmitters in the reward circuit, or by reducing the number of receptors that can receive signals. As a result, the person’s ability to experience pleasure from naturally rewarding activities is also reduced.
This is why a person who misuses drugs eventually feels flat, without motivation, lifeless, and/or depressed, and is unable to enjoy things that were previously pleasurable. Now, the person needs to keep taking drugs to experience even a normal level of rewardwhich only makes the problem worse, like a vicious cycle. Also, the person will often need to take larger amounts of the drug to produce the familiar highan effect known as tolerance.
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How Does The Brain Work
The brain is often likened to an incredibly complex and intricate computer. Instead of electrical circuits on the silicon chips that control our electronic devices, the brain consists of billions of cells, called neurons, which are organized into circuits and networks. Each neuron acts as a switch controlling the flow of information. If a neuron receives enough signals from other neurons that it is connected to, it fires, sending its own signal on to other neurons in the circuit.
The brain is made up of many parts with interconnected circuits that all work together as a team. Different brain circuits are responsible for coordinating and performing specific functions. Networks of neurons send signals back and forth to each other and among different parts of the brain, the spinal cord, and nerves in the rest of the body .
To send a message, a neuron releases a neurotransmitter into the gap between it and the next cell. The neurotransmitter crosses the synapse and attaches to receptors on the receiving neuron, like a key into a lock. This causes changes in the receiving cell. Other molecules called transporters recycle neurotransmitters , thereby limiting or shutting off the signal between neurons.
How Does Addiction Affect The Body
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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Some Suggestions To Get Started:
- Learn all you can about alcohol and drug misuse and addiction.
- Speak up and offer your support: talk to the person about your concerns, and offer your help and support, including your willingness to go with them and get help. Like other chronic diseases, the earlier addiction is treated, the better.
- Express love and concern: don’t wait for your loved one to “hit bottom.” You may be met with excuses, denial or anger. Be prepared to respond with specific examples of behavior that has you worried.
- Don’t expect the person to stop without help: you have heard it before – promises to cut down, stop – but, it doesn’t work. Treatment, support, and new coping skills are needed to overcome addiction to alcohol and drugs.
- Support recovery as an ongoing process: once your friend or family member is receiving treatment, or going to meetings, remain involved. Continue to show that you are concerned about his/her successful long-term recovery.
An Addicted Brain Causes Behavior Changes
Brain imaging studies from people with substance use disorders show changes in areas of the brain that are critical to judgment, decision making, learning and memory, and behavior control. Scientists believe that these changes alter the way the brain works and may help explain the compulsive and destructive behaviors of addiction.
A promising student might see his grades slip. A bubbly social butterfly might suddenly have trouble getting out of bed. A trustworthy sibling might start stealing or lying. Behavioral changes like these are directly linked to a changing brain.
Addiction also creates cravings. These cravings can be painful, constant, and distracting. Whats more, withdrawal from substances is a painful, whole-body experience. Once someone is addicted, responding to cravings and avoiding withdrawal become their most important needs.
Addiction can happen to anyone.
Its not about your background, where you grew up, or how much money you make. Addiction can happen to anyone. Still, researchers have identified what kinds of experiences and biological circumstances put some people at greater risk than others.
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Addiction Is A Developmental Disease It Typically Begins In Childhood Or Adolescence
Images of Brain Development in health Children and Teens
As the brain matures, experiences prune excess neural connections while strengthening those that are used more often. Many scientists think that this process contributes to the steady reduction in gray matter volume seen during adolescence . As environmental forces help determine which connections will wither and which will thrive, the brain circuits that emerge to become more efficient. However, this is a process that can cut both ways because not all tasks are desirable. The environment is like an artist who creates a sculpture by chipping away excess marble and just like bad artists can produce bad art, environments with negative factors can lead to efficient but potentially harmful circuits that conspire against a persons well-being.
Today More Doctors Policymakers And Everyday Americans Are Embracing The Science Of Addiction
Thats good news. But its important to remember that addiction has always been an illnesseven when our health care systems were most hostile to the idea, and even when the people American culture primarily associated with drugs and addiction were Black or Latinx Americans. Learn about the social impact of addiction in America.
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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.