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The Science Behind Addiction

The body is a complex system.  The brain is the central organ that controls everything that happens within in the body, and every move that it makes.  It regulates thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.  When healthy, the brain functions normally and people are able to carry out their thoughts and actions in a logical manner.  But when something interferes with the way the brain works, it makes daily functioning more difficult.  Drugs and alcohol are two substances that have the ability to alter the brain.  At drug and alcohol treatment facilities, staff is trained to help people overcome the changes that these substances have caused in their brains.

How the Brain Works

Twenty-four hours a day, the brain is communicating with the body.  It is continually sending signals and messages to nerve cells in an intricate and expansive network.  Neurotransmitters are chemicals that carry messages between the neurons to receptors.  Each receptor only responds to specific kind of neurotransmitter.

The brain has a reward pathway that that is activated when things make the body feel good and bring it pleasure or reward.  This feeling is controlled by the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine.  Whenever this occurs, the brain remembers these activities and repeats them.  Dopamine gives people a certain “high” that they associate with things they enjoy.

How Drugs and Alcohol Interfere with the Brain

When a person begins taking drugs or drinking alcohol, it changes the way the nerve cells communicate with each other.  Some substances cause these cells to release large amounts of dopamine which causes people to feel greater pleasure associated with taking these drugs.   According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, certain drugs can release between two and 10 times as much dopamine as natural rewards, and the effects last much longer.  This can lead to people repeatedly using drugs or alcohol to continue the pleasurable feelings.  Repeated use can begin to change the amount of dopamine the brain reacts to and associates with rewarding activities.

As the brain becomes used to the rush of dopamine, it creates less receptors to receive these signals.  The impact is lessened and activities that used to bring a person enjoyment no longer have the same effect.  They develop a certain tolerance, and in order to achieve the same high they felt before, they must take increasingly larger amounts of drugs.  This becomes a vicious cycle and soon their body begins to crave drugs or alcohol because that is what it needs to produce a pleasurable feeling.  The more they use, the more it alters the way the brain communicates, and they find themselves compelled to keep using.

Impact of Addiction

As the chemistry of the brain slowly changes, so does a person’s behaviors and mental state.  They become focused on feeding their need for drugs or alcohol to continue the high they feel.  Their judgment becomes impaired and their decision-making is not always sound.  The person does not often realize the negative impact that drugs or alcohol has had on their life.

Overcoming Addiction

When people stop using drugs or alcohol, their brain no longer produces the rewarding feeling is has become used to and they may feel depressed and lifeless.  They often crave these substances.  That is one reason that overcoming addiction can prove so difficult.  The brain has become essentially rewired.  The person must work to control their addiction and once again change the way the brain interprets rewarding activities.  Even after a prolonged period of abstinence, using just one time can reactivate the rewarding feeling the brain produces.

Addiction is not a lack of willpower, it is a chemical change that takes place in the brain.  Staying sober involves changing one’s lifestyle and learning ways to resist the temptation of using drugs or alcohol.  Drug and alcohol treatment facilities can teach addicts strategies to regain control over their lives and live a life free from substance abuse.

If you or a loved one suffer from addiction and want to learn how to make positive changes and regain control over your life, contact Chapters Capistrano today to find out how we can help.