How Addiction Changes The Brain

Derived from the Latin word for bound to or enslaved, addiction exerts a powerful and long lasting influence on the brain that is hard to overcome. People who have struggled with addiction or tried to support a friend or family member to overcome this habit understands how addiction changes the brain and why the term enslaved fits so well.

Giving up drugs or booze is easier said than done. Without the right information, treatment, and support, it can be like looking into a dust storm. Everything looks grey and shapeless, and that can be very terrifying. At All Hands Drug Treatment, we aim to offer information, guidance and support to help anyone struggling with addiction to live a straight, meaningful, and productive life.

Three characteristics of addiction include:
• Intense cravings
• Loss of control over the substance of addiction
• Continued use despite unpleasant consequences

Experts thought that only powerful drugs and alcohol could cause addiction. However, research that is more recent and neuroimaging technologies show that other pleasurable activities, such as shopping, gambling, and even sex, can also affect the brain.

How Addiction Changes the Brain

No one starts out wanting to be an addict; however, most people fall into its snare. Addiction is a chronic condition that changes both the function and structure of the brain. Just as diabetes impairs the pancreas and heart disease harms the heart, addiction takes control of the brain. This takes place when as brain goes through several changes, starting with identification of bliss and ending with a push towards obsessive actions.

The brain recognizes pleasures or joy in the same manner, whether they come from a monetary reward, psychoactive drug, satisfying meal, or sex. Pleasure has a distinct mark on the brain. It releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter, in the nucleus accumbens, which is below the cerebral cortex. This release is so connected with pleasure that experts refer to that region of the brain as the pleasure center.

All hard drugs cause a particularly strong release of dopamine. The probability that a certain drug will cause addiction is directly connected to the speed with which it boosts dopamine release, the reliability, and the intensity if the release. In fact, the simple act of taking the drug in different ways can affect how likely it is to cause addiction. Injecting a drug, for example, will lead to addiction faster than if one swallowed it as a pill.

Frequent exposure to addictive behaviors or substances causes nerve cells in the prefrontal cortex and the nucleus accumbens to interact in a way that combines liking and wanting, forcing people to go after the source of pleasure.

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