How Does Addiction Affect the Brain?

How Does Addiction Affect the Brain?

Almost everyone today understands that addiction is a mental health disorder. When a person becomes addicted to a substance, their judgment and reasoning become clouded by their desire for drugs or alcohol. Still, you might be wondering – how exactly does addiction affect the brain?

According to Harvard Health, addiction impacts the brain in three main ways:

  • An intense craving for the substance
  • A complete loss of control over the use of the substance
  • Continued involvement with the substance despite adverse consequences

It’s important to understand that addiction is a chronic disease that changes the brain. Similar to how cancer can change the body, addiction affects how the brain functions. The brain registers all pleasure the same way, with a release of dopamine. We usually receive waves of dopamine when we take part in pleasurable activities such as eating, sex, or earning money. When we take drugs or alcohol, the brain’s “pleasure center” is activated, and dopamine is released. In fact, a large quantity of dopamine is released, and the brain and body are flooded with pleasure.

When this happens, it triggers a response from the hippocampus in the brain. The hippocampus is in charge of our memory. The hippocampus instills a memory that this action – taking the drugs or alcohol – released an ample supply of dopamine and conditions a response. Drugs and alcohol can release up to 10 times more dopamine than a natural trigger, like eating a delicious meal, so the body takes notice of what just happened. Our brain conditions us to want to repeat this action to get another significant release of dopamine.

Over time, the body builds up a tolerance to the substance, and the same amount doesn’t provide us with a massive hit of dopamine. Essentially, the brain gets overwhelmed with this huge supply of dopamine over and over and shuts down the dopamine response. Now, the same drugs or alcohol isn’t as rewarding as it was before. This is where compulsion and addiction come into play.

The brain and the body want to find that similar first experience of a big dopamine rush. So, individuals start to take more and more substances in search of that “first high.” And, if the person ever tries to stop the supply of drugs or alcohol, they are hit with withdrawal symptoms. The body and the brain have become reliant on the substances and there are distressing symptoms when someone tries to quit. This often includes emotional, physical, and mental side effects.

Recovery From Addiction
As we know understand how addiction can affect the brain, we also understand that recovery is a lot more than just resisting temptation. To overcome an addiction, a person must usually combine a variety of forces, including medication and psychotherapy. It’s like a person’s body is working against them. As a result, the person needs as much support as possible to have a successful recovery. Medical detox can help a person ease off substances more gradually, helping reduce the intensity of withdrawal symptoms. And psychotherapy can help a person understand why they turn to substances, learn how to recognize their triggers, and learn coping skills for future temptations.

Alter Behavioral Health
Alter Behavioral Health is Orange County’s top mental health facility. Addiction is a mental health illness, but treatment can help you get on the road to recovery. At Alter Behavioral Health, our experienced medical staff will help you get the coping skills you need to tackle your addiction and move forward with your life. Contact us today to find out more about how we can help.

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