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.
Areas Of The Brain Affected By Substance Use
While alcohol and drugs affect the entire brain, some regions are more involved with SUD than others. The National Institute on Drug Abuse explains the effects of drugs on the brain in the article Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction, which focuses on the overstimulation of three key brain areas: the basal ganglia, the extended amygdala, and the pre-frontal cortex.
- The basal ganglia, associated with the brains reward system, recognizes pleasurable activities such as enjoying a good meal or having fun with friends. When overstimulated by drug use, though, it loses sensitivity to natural neurotransmitters, such as dopamine. With continued drug use, drugs become the only stimulus that activates this reward center.
- The extended amygdala is associated with negative emotions such as stress, anxiety, and irritability. These are symptoms a person experiences when a substance leaves the bloodstream. To avoid the negative symptoms of withdrawal, individuals often take more drugs, creating a feedback loop.
- The pre-frontal cortex is the area of the brain that governs decision making, logic, problem-solving, self-control, and impulse control. When this area of the brain is affected by drugs, confusion and poor decisions dominate the cognitive process.
Several drugs, including alcohol, affect the cerebellum. The cerebellum assists with muscle control and coordination, which is why people who have had too many drinks may stumble and weave when they walk.
Is Addiction A Disease Of The Brain
Addiction is a disease of the brain, and also of behavior. While addiction causes damage to your brain, addiction itself is largely caused by the effects of repeated drug use. Extended, chronic drug abuse can change your brains infrastructure, chemical makeup, and ability to function properly. This constant influx of drugs alters your brains most essential functions, making you more susceptible to addiction.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse comments on this, noting that Many scientific studies conducted over decades have established that drug dependence and addiction are features of an organic brain disorder caused by drugs cumulative impacts on neurotransmission.
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Helping The Brain Recover From Addiction
Research on the brains recovery is limited and still relatively new. Less than a century ago, scientists thought the mature brain stopped developing new cells; we now know the brain continues to create new cells and neural pathways. However, addiction recovery takes time, discipline, support, and patience. Before the brain can begin healing, the body must be clean of any residual substance. Detox can take several days to several weeks, depending on the substance and how long an individual has struggled with addiction.
The brain will start recovering the volume of lost grey matter within one week of the last drink with alcohol. Other areas of the brain and the white matter in the pre-frontal cortex take several months or longer to recover.
Rebuilding the neural pathways to reinforce healthier choices and habits depends on each individuals circumstances. Opioids and cocaine are highly addictive, which makes them more challenging to re-configure deeply ingrained neural circuits. Additionally, the longer a substance is abused, the more solidified the neural pathway for that behavior becomes.
Most drugs change dopamine levels. Many variables determine whether or not the brains capacity to release and re-uptake dopamine will ever fully recover. In addition to the specific substance and length of use, dopamine recovery depends on a persons age, genetics, mental health, and how many drugs were used simultaneously.
Healing And Recovery Are Possible
There is good news about recovery: our brains are neuroplastic. That means the reward system and other functions and connections in our brains can be rewired and reformed. Unhealthy habits can be replaced with healthy ones. It may take time, but it is possible for an addicted brain to relearn and experience enjoyment, gratification, and satisfaction from positive behaviors.
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Porn Addiction Makes Sex Seem Like Too Much Work
All of this combines to often make sex with your spouse too much work. Youre not aroused; you find your spouse not attractive; sex is blah; and sex requires you to make an effort for your spouse, while youre used to immediate gratification.
Thus, many people who use porn retreat into a life of masturbation. Even if the porn use stops, they often find it easier to relieve themselves in the shower than to have to work at sex.
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Addiction Vs Abuse And Tolerance
Drug abuse is when you use legal or illegal substances in ways you shouldnt. You might take more than the regular dose of pills or use someone elses prescription. You may abuse drugs to feel good, ease stress, or avoid reality. But usually, youre able to change your unhealthy habits or stop using altogether.
Addiction is when you cant stop. Not when it puts your health in danger. Not when it causes financial, emotional, and other problems for you or your loved ones. That urge to get and use drugs can fill up every minute of the day, even if you want to quit.
Addiction also is different from physical dependence or tolerance. In cases of physical dependence, withdrawal symptoms happen when you suddenly stop a substance. Tolerance happens when a dose of a substance becomes less effective over time.
When you use opioids for pain for a long time, for example, you may develop tolerance and even physical dependence. This doesnt mean youre addicted. In general, when narcotics are used under proper medical supervision, addiction happens in only a small percentage of people.
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The Brain Chemistry Of Addiction Treatment
Addiction isnt just about reliance on a substance. It is about interactions between biological factorslike the neurocircuitry described here, but also genetics and epigenetics, and environmental factorssuch as stress, trauma, and cultural systems.
Addiction is a biopsychosocial disease and so we need biopsychosocial treatments, meaning treatments that work at the biological, psychological, and social levels, Dr. Lembke says.
Biologically, we have medicines that can target specific receptors. For instance, when treating nicotine addiction, the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor which is what binds nicotine, is targeted using medications like varenicline and nicotine replacement therapies. We dont have a drug for every single addictive substance, but theres lot of exciting work in this space, Dr. Lembke says.
In terms of psychological intervention, adds Dr. Lembke, individual and group psychotherapy have been shown to be effective. In terms of social interventions, peer recovery groups like Alcoholic Anonymous and other 12 step groups are effective for those who actively participate, and may be even better than individual psychotherapy over the long term. Social interventions also include improving family systems, providing access to jobs, and creating a healthy living environment where people can rest, recreate, and reflect.
What is dopamine: Science News for Students, January 17, 2017, Explainer: What is Dopamine?
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.
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Porn Addiction Causes Selfishness
All of this causes a spiral of selfishness where the person ignores his spouses needs and is focused only on getting what he wants, and getting it instantly. Often this manifests itself in other areas of the relationship as well, where the spouse becomes annoyed if they have to wait for something, or if they dont get what they want.;Porn has sold them the message:;you deserve pleasure when you want it. You shouldnt have to work to get what you want. Your needs are paramount.
Its no wonder that shows up in other areas of your relationship.
Sex is supposed to bond you physically, emotionally and spiritually with your spouse.
People who think that porn is harmless and simply helps people get in the mood, or relieves frustration, are kidding themselves. The chemical processes in our brains are really complicated, and when you start messing with them, its really difficult to develop a healthy sexuality again.
However, it absolutely can be done! Later this year Ill be working on an ebook about it, but for now, these posts may help:
The Anatomy Of Addiction
With enough reinforcement, drug users move on to the stages of addiction known as craving and dependence. Dependence is an ambiguous word, sometimes used to mean physical and sometimes psychological dependence. Yet these are very different states, andperhaps not surprisinglythey employ different parts of the brain.
Drugs can cause a host of changes to parts of the brain that control body functions, especially the brain stem and spinal cord. These alterations produce physical dependence on the drug. When the drug supply stops, the result can be a sickness called withdrawal. Withdrawal from heroin is a ghastly experience, and alcohol withdrawal can actually be fatal.
A natural brain compound called BDNF can rescue dopamine-producing neurons from alteration by morphine. At left is a normal dopamine-producing neuron in the ventral tegmental area of a rat’s brain. Repeated administration of morphine shrinks the neuron perceptibly . However, when BDNF is administered along with morphine, no shrinkage occurs . Photos: Eric Nestler.
Historically, withdrawal illness has been regarded as the telltale sign of an addictive drug. Many researchers, however, now reject physical withdrawal symptoms as a defining characteristic of addiction because it turns out that a drug can be powerfully addictive without causing serious withdrawal sicknesses. Two such drugs much in evidence today are crack cocaine and methamphetamine.
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What Do Brain Scans Of Addicted People Show
Though addiction can display itself in many different ways, from physical changes to behavioral responses, brain imaging and scans can also find signs of addiction in the brain itself.
Researchers who study how addiction changes the brain have found clear markers of addiction within brain chemistry and structure. Using technology like magnetic resonance imaging and positron emission tomography scans, medical professionals can see inside the inner workings of the brain, both with an addictive state and without.
These scans show us that several different regions and pathways within the brain are affected by addiction. From an increase in neurotransmitters like dopamine to reduced or increased activity in particular brain regions, addiction has a direct impact on the brains structure, functioning, and health.
- A 2009 study published in the journal Neuropharmacology used PET scans to show the flow of dopamine to different regions of the brain in individuals who misused drugs. When researchers followed the dopamine through the brain, they found that dopamine levels were lower in parts of the brain that controlled repetitive or risk-taking behavior and decision making. Dopamine also affected areas of the brain that associated drug-taking with pleasure and stimulation, making it more likely the individual would take drugs again.
Brain Therapies For Addiction
When someone battling addiction enters a facility, they receive medication and have access to innovative treatments. A common treatment to stabilize and soothe the brain after addiction is biofeedback therapy. This allows a professional to monitor the brain. They can figure out how to improve brain activity, reducing the effects of addiction and unhealthy impulses.
Biofeedback uses electroencephalograms . EEGs are typically used to help individuals who have suffered traumatic brain injuries and can be helpful to individuals with obsessive compulsive disorder and other brain disorders. Biofeedback reduces stress and reduces involuntary functions. This therapy can also include meditation, guided imagery, and muscle relaxation.
When this is combined with therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy or dialectical behavioral therapy , biofeedback improves the individuals involuntary functions, like heartbeat, blood pressure, and muscle contraction. Neurofeedback, or EEQ therapy, is a type of biofeedback. This therapy is a brain-training treatment. In the case of addiction, this therapy monitors the brains activity. It helps patients to reduce stress and anxiety and can treat compulsions. The end result of both therapies is the administrator rewarding the brain to recover how it functions.
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Porn Is Not Addictive
Neuroscience research has revealed that what goes on inside the brains of so-called porn addicts is not at all what you would expect from people who truly have an addiction.
Of course, some people do indeed have problems regulating porn usetheres no disputing that. Its just that their problem doesnt seem to be addictivelike, say, drugs or alcoholin nature.
The Effects Of Alcohol And Drugs On The Brain
Scientists have discovered sizable discrepancies between the brains of those who struggle with substance abuse and those who do not. Through brain imaging techniques, researchers have witnessed that the minds of people with a drug or alcohol dependence display abnormal activity in the forebrain, where chemical messengers stimulate desire. When an individual takes drugs or consumes alcohol, the reward system is triggered, and high levels of dopamine are released, increasing feelings of pleasure. Repeated use causes the brain to crave the substance.
When an addicted person develops a tolerance to alcohol or drugs, their brain receptors adapt by producing less dopamine. Consequently, the individual might feel compelled to increase their consumption of the substance to replicate its once-powerful effects.
Drugs and alcohol dont just cause the brain to crave the substance but also affect how the brain functions, impacting breathing and heart rate, problem solving, motivation, and decision making. Substance abuse also impacts personality and behavior.
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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.
The Top Tools Being Utilized For Research On The Brain In Recovery
Functional brain measurement techniques:
Methods that provide dynamic physiological information about brain function/activity. Functional imaging techniques allow scientists to measure the contributions of various structures to specific psychological processes . Commonly obtained while participants complete tasks, functional images offer insight to the brain regions that are activated, or recruited, to perform a given task. Atypical brain function in patient populations can include reduced neural activation or a different pattern of brain activation as compared to healthy control populations.
- Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging
Also known as a functional MRI , this imaging technique measures brain activity by detecting changes associated with blood flow and oxygenation.
- Numerous studies utilizing functional magnetic resonance imaging have shown that drug cues elicit increased regional blood flow in reward-related brain areas among addicted participants that is not found among normal controls
See the fMRI in action:
Structural brain measurement techniques:
Imaging techniques that allow one to examine the brains anatomical structure. Structural imaging provides static information, and is analogous to taking a photograph of the brain. These images permit evaluation of gross anatomical abnormalities, including tissue atrophy and reduced white matter integrity .
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How The Brain Works
The brain is the communication center of the body. It uses electrical impulses to transmit information and messages throughout the body using the central nervous system. Some of these messages help with daily living, like telling the heart to beat or the lungs to breathe, while other messages help people live their lives, like when to walk and how to speak.
The brain also helps shape who people are as individuals. The way the brain communicates with the body and helps the person process information shapes that persons personality.
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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Theres A Sub On Reddit Called /r/pornfree
Its a community of over 82,000 which exists to help people of all ages overcome their addiction to porn. I asked them what kinds of positive outcomes they noticed after their own experiences with abstinence.
One Redditor wrote:
I have more drive and my mind is clearer. Before everything seemed dull and my head was like it was filled with fog.
Also I realised that I am lonely and that I crave emotional connection more than sex. Before, all these emotions were sort of brushed under the rug. Also, sex is so much more intense and really more of an emotional thing.
For me, cutting out pornography takes away the brief high, but it also takes away the crashing low. It always left me feeling worse afterwards.
This Redditors reply might be my favourite:
I had higher confidence and self esteem. I was much more sure of myself, like I didnt second guess myself and made decisions quicker. Overall happiness was higher, I was super cheerful all of the time. I would appreciate many different types of women other than the super attractive ones.
Extra attention from women, now I know that whole super powers thing is nonsense but I did notice more women looking at me.
Reddit post on /Pornfree thread