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Addiction: The Science of How It Affects the Brain

Addiction has been defined as a neuropsychological disorder that involves a strong and ongoing desire to use a substance or participate in an activity that produces natural pleasure despite the significant harm and negative outcomes. It is considered both a complex brain disorder and a mental illness.
Addiction: The Science of How It Affects the Brain

Here at Connection Mental Healthcare Rehabilitation Centre, we understand the complexities of substance abuse and are perfectly positioned to support individuals every step of the way on their recovery journey

What is addiction?

Addiction has been defined as a neuropsychological disorder that involves a strong and ongoing desire to use a substance or participate in an activity that produces natural pleasure despite the significant harm and negative outcomes. It is considered both a complex brain disorder and a mental illness. 

But for those suffering from addiction, it is a mental disease that has captured their entire focus and purpose. Nothing else is important besides where they will find their next hit. Their lives have become a rollercoaster of highs and lows. It is now consumed by thoughts of how to get hold of and use their drug of choice. Their lives have become focused on that high, that high that seems to fade each time they consume it. They are chasing that feeling that is no longer within reach. 

Understanding brain chemistry: The reward circuit

To truly grasp addiction and its tight grip, we need to understand the brain’s reward system, which consists of neural circuits that influence our behaviours like motivation, pleasure, and learning. When we do things we enjoy or love, our brain releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter producing feelings of pleasure and satisfaction. This natural reward circuit reinforces our behaviours like eating, socialising or reproducing, which are all essential for our survival.

Think of drugs or addictive substances as the cheats in this biochemical game. They flood the brain with dopamine, hyper-stimulating the reward system and producing euphoric effects that users often seek to replicate. 

However, the brain is not easily fooled by the continued drug exposure and reduces its own dopamine production. As a result, we experience decreased pleasure from previously enjoyable activities, including more natural rewards. This compels us to consume more and more of the drug just to feel some sense of normalcy. It becomes a vicious cycle.

Addiction – Hijacking of the Prefrontal Cortex

Unfortunately, addiction’s influence doesn’t end with the reward system. The prefrontal cortex, a region responsible for decision-making, impulse control, and behaviour regulation, also falls victim to this hijacking. This is why those struggling with addiction may prioritise substance use over necessary activities or responsibilities, as their judgment and decision-making abilities have been negatively impacted.

With substance use, the prefrontal cortex’s functionality diminishes, and the intense desire for the drug strengthens. It simply overpowers the individual’s ability to resist the impulse. This neurological hijacking explains why addiction is not merely a matter of willpower – the substance has rewired the brain circuits that significantly affect judgment and self-control.

Stress, Neuroplasticity, and Addiction

Prolonged substance abuse affects more than just the brain’s reward system and decision-making processes; it also impacts the brain’s ability to resist stressful situations. When stress affects someone with addiction, it triggers cravings for the addictive substance, complicating resistance because the stress circuitry in their brain has undergone alterations.

Furthermore, neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to change and adapt, plays a significant role in addiction. While usually beneficial, allowing us to learn from experiences, in the context of addiction, neuroplasticity can be detrimental. The brain adapts in response to repeated substance exposure, and these changes can persist long after substance use ends, contributing to the person’s risk of relapse.

The Road to Recovery: Healing the Brain

But there is hope. We can harness the same neuroplasticity that strengthens addiction for recovery. Treatments and recovery are not one-size-fits-all, and effective strategies may include medication, therapy, or a combination.

Medications can help restore balance to brain circuits affected by substance abuse, relieving withdrawal symptoms and helping to manage cravings. They work differently depending on the addiction type, but the goal is to help the brain adapt slowly and safely to the absence of the substance.

At Connection Mental Healthcare Rehabilitation Centre, we provide tailored treatment plans which help individuals explore the root causes of their addiction, develop healthier coping mechanisms, and learn strategies to prevent relapse. These approaches help individuals rebuild their lives. The path to recovery is one that requires as much support as possible.

A Hopeful Future

Understanding addiction as a neurological disorder rather than a moral failing or the result of a weakness helps pave the way for effective treatment and societal support. Science demonstrates that the path from initial substance use to addiction involves significant brain changes, explaining the challenges faced during recovery.

It’s crucial that we as a society understand the science behind addiction so that together we can destigmatise addiction. We need to encourage and support those who are suffering to seek the help they need and deserve. By seeing the person behind the addiction, recognising their struggle, supporting scientific research, and advocating for comprehensive care, we contribute to a more empathetic world that perceives addiction through the lens of science, not stigma.

Breaking free from drug addiction

Addiction can catch anyone, but there is always hope; there is always a way out. Take the first step on your recovery journey – end the cycle of substance abuse and improve your overall physical, psychological, mental and emotional well-being. Get the life you deserve – one of recovery, dignity, and fulfilment.

At Connection Mental Healthcare, we understand the fact that addiction seldom occurs by choice. Our dedicated team offers effective solutions for those battling with drug addiction. Through our personalised approach, we provide individuals battling addiction with access to professional guidance and support that empowers them to reclaim control over their lives.  

Connect with our team today! Taking the initial steps toward finding help can be daunting; however, if you’re driven to change your situation, we are here for you.

Experiencing the addiction of a loved one can be an extremely difficult situation, leaving you with feelings of frustration, powerlessness and sadness. Reach out to us; we are here for you.

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