How Does Addiction Change the Brain?

Addiction is a complex disease that affects sufferers in every possible way. One of the greatest consequences of addiction is the changes it makes to the brain. Overtime, chronic drug or alcohol use causes the brain to adapt in ways that change the brain’s physical structure. Not only do these changes lead to addiction and physical dependence, but they also cause emotional and behavioral changes that can be devastating to one’s life.
The brain is a complex communication system made up of a variety of different parts and systems, all of which are greatly affected by drug use. The National Institute on Drug Abuse explains, “Drugs are chemicals that affect the brain by tapping into its communication system and interfering with the way neurons normally send, receive, and process information. Some drugs, such as marijuana and heroin, can activate neurons because their chemical structure mimics that of a natural neurotransmitter. This similarity in structure “fools” receptors and allows the drugs to attach onto and activate the neurons. Although these drugs mimic the brain’s own chemicals, they don’t activate neurons in the same way as a natural neurotransmitter, and they lead to abnormal messages being transmitted through the network.” Other drugs cause large amounts of chemicals, such as dopamine, to be released, interfering with the brain’s communication channels.
Addiction, in a sense, hijacks the brain’s reward system. Addictive drugs cause an overload of the system, leading to adaptation and physical dependence. A 2011 Harvard Mental Health Letter entitled How Addiction Hijacks the Brain, explains, “As a result of these adaptations, dopamine has less impact on the brain’s reward center. People who develop an addiction typically find that, in time, the desired substance no longer gives them as much pleasure. They have to take more of it to obtain the same dopamine “high” because their brains have adapted — an effect known as tolerance. At this point, compulsion takes over. The pleasure associated with an addictive drug or behavior subsides — and yet the memory of the desired effect and the need to recreate it (the wanting) persists. It’s as though the normal machinery of motivation is no longer functioning.” We shift from wanting the drug to feeling as though we need it. It become just as important to us as other necessary functions, like eating and drinking.

Your story doesn’t have to be caught up in the cycle of addiction. You can begin building a brighter future in sobriety by making the courageous decision to seek help now. Oceanfront Recovery, a treatment center in the heart of beautiful Laguna Beach, is staffed with compassionate professionals who understand the disease of addiction from every angle and are dedicated to providing clients with all the tools necessary to achieve and maintain sobriety. For information about individualized treatment options, please call today: (877) 279-1777