What is drug addiction. Why is the point of view of looking at addiction as a brain disease gathering in popularity? I believe is simply because the principal actions of drugs and alcohol are on the brain.
Drinking and drugging affect the brain in three very important ways. It alters the function of the brain, it alters the physical structure of the brain, and it alters the chemicals produced in the brain.
To put it bluntly, when you do drugs are messing up your brain.
This is Part 2 of a 3 part series. The other posts are:
- We will discuss drug addiction from an addict’s point of view. (Part 1 of 3).
- Addiction from a medical point of view. (Part 3 of 3)
Viewing Drug Addiction As A Brain Disease
Viewing addiction as a brain disease is pretty much on the polar opposite end of the scale as the historic view of addiction being a moral weakness. Supporters of the moralistic view tend to believe that it is simply a matter of just saying “no” and stopping.
As more and more is revealed about the functioning of the brain, through the tremendous technological advances in the last 30 years, understanding drug addiction and recovery become a very complex problem. We now have all different sorts of scans and task that can actually show was clearly pictures of the brain and what’s happening inside.
Drugs and alcohol affect the functioning in the brain’s limbic system. The limbic system contains the brains pleasure pathways or reward centers. It is the stimulation and action of chemical changes that occur here that produce feelings of pleasure. The brain learns that one feelings of pleasure occur where motivated to repeat them.
Messages in the brain are transmitted by sending electrical impulses across networks of nerve cells called neurons. Messages are transmitted between neurons by the chemicals called neurotransmitters. This is where it gets interesting.
Drugs Mess Up The Way Your Brain Works In Big Ways
Alcohol and drugs affect your brain in these three ways:
- They change the physical structure of your brain.
- They change the functioning of your brain.
- They alter the chemical signals your brain sends to your body.
- Physical structure of your brain.
Through different types of scans now available, such as Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging, we can see physical changes in the brain. Drugs actually do destroy brain cells. Okay the government that
- Function of your brain.
Chronic exposure to drugs of abuse disrupts the way critical brain structures interact to control and inhibit behaviors related to drug use. Just as continued abuse may lead to tolerance or the need for higher drug dosages to produce an effect, it may also lead to addiction, which can drive a user to seek out and take drugs compulsively. Drug addiction erodes a person’s self-control and ability to make sound decisions, while producing intense impulses to take drugs.
- Affect brain chemistry.
After using drugs for significant amount of time changes in the chemical system of the brain and its circuits occur. Studies of brain images of individuals with drug addiction show significant changes in the specific areas of the brain that are critical to decision-making, judgment, memory, learning and very importantly behavior control. One put altogether these changes can significantly affect behavior and cause a drug addict to seek out and take drugs and obsessive-compulsive fashion.
Alcohol and drugs are chemicals that can enter into and interfere with that chemical communication by mimicking the natural chemicals that occur in the brain. Some examples are heroin or marijuana which fooled brain into sending abnormal messages which are then transmitted. There are other drugs such as the stimulants cocaine and amphetamines which cause the brain cells to release an abnormally large quantities of the brain chemicals.
How Do We Get Addicted To Drugs In The First Place?
Well, one reason is that drugs can stimulate 100 percent to 1000 percent the amount of dopamine (the chemical that makes us feel good), released to reward center in the brain. That’s almost like saying you can feel 2 to 10 times better with drugs than you can naturally doing things like hanging out, esting, or having sex.. The effects of drugs are not only way more intense. but also last much longer.
The problem is that our brain starts to adapt to these abnormally large quantities of dopamine it does so by producing less and less of the substance naturally. So, if you’re not actually under the effects of drugs your ‘resting state’, is actually quite low. The brain also reacts to curb the flood by reducing the number of dopamine receptors available in the brain so it does not face continual overload.
This means essentially that you must take drugs just to feel ‘normal’, and even more and more drugs to get high. This is the symptom of drug addiction known as tolerance. It’s like hitting a moving, escalating target.
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See It Yourself - Brain Imaging Shows Brain Changes Caused by Drug Use
We would like to note that sustaining long-term recovery is simply not about saying no to drugs (although that is the object of the exercise). It is about gaining an education of the nature of drug addiction, how it personally applies to you, and formulating strategic prevention awareness and actions.
Click Here For Part 1 Drug addiction from an active addicts of view.
Some Really Good Resources
- Why Do Our Brains Get Addicted? This is a video featuring Neuroscientist Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse at the NIH National Institute of Health – 16 minutes and worth it
- Brain and Addiction for Teens This is a quick read from the National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens
All that being said, to say that drug addiction is simply all neurological, biological and physical is way too much of a simplification. If a person has not truly ‘crossed the line’ into addiction, they may be able to make a self-willed choice to stop or control the use.
These people have not quite reach the tipping point. When negative consequences in unmanageability start showing up because of their drug use they can make a rational decision that the rewards of not using outweigh those of using, and they stop.
However, the deeper into addiction one is the less capable one is of making conscious decisions to stop. Part of the brain that is affected by sustained drug use is in the area of being able to withhold instant gratification and sustain willful purpose.