How Does Addiction Affect the Brain?

The human brain is the most powerful organ in the body. It’s also the most complex. The brain controls the rest of our body and everything we do, telling us exactly what to do and how to do it. The brain can also be easily influenced by outside factors. The slightest change in makeup or chemistry in the brain can completely change the way our bodies function and the way we act. 

One of the biggest threats to the makeup of our brain is illicit substances such as drugs or alcohol. As we ingest more and more of these substances, the brain relies on them in order to function, changing the chemical makeup of the brain. Let’s take a look at addiction in the brain and how the development of an addiction affects the overall chemistry and performance of the brain. 

How Does the Brain Work?

Before we can take a look at how addiction affects the brain, it’s important to talk about how the average brain works and functions. 

The brain is essentially a powerful and complex computer that runs and controls the rest of the body. Similar to how a computer has circuits and chips to properly run it, the brain is made up of cells called neurons that are organized into various networks, all controlling different functions. The brain is made up of many parts with interconnected circuits that all work together as a team. Different brain circuits are responsible for coordinating and performing specific functions. These networks send signals back and forth between both each other and body parts including the spinal cord and nerves. 

How Do Drugs Interact With the Brain?

When a person takes an illicit substance, it interferes in the brain’s ability to both send and receive signals throughout the body. Some drugs activate neurons, while others can cause the neurons to release abnormally large amounts of natural neurotransmitters. They can also prevent the normal recycling of these brain chemicals by interfering with transporters. 

Drugs such as marijuana or cocaine have a chemical makeup that mimics a neurotransmitter. This is what allows these types of drugs to activate the neurons. It’s important to know though that while they mimic the brain’s own chemicals, they activate neurons differently than the brain’s natural chemicals would. This can cause a disruption in the way that the neurons would normally communicate with each other.

What Specific Parts of the Brain Are Most Affected By Drugs and Alcohol?

While prolonged drug and alcohol use can affect the entire brain and how it functions, there are three specific areas of the brain that are more significantly affected than others. Those three areas are:

The Basal Ganglia

The basal ganglia play an integral role in positive forms of motivation as well as the formation of habits and routines. It is also the part of the brain that acknowledges things that we like and enjoy. As a result, this part of the brain is sometimes referred to as the reward circuit.

When a person takes an illicit substance, it can over-activate the circuit and produce the euphoria that is commonly associated with drugs, also known as the “high.” As a person continues to take these illicit substances, it begins to essentially numb the basal ganglia, diminishing its sensitivity and making it harder and harder to feel pleasure from anything other than those substances.

Extended Amygdala

The extended amygdala is the part of the brain that handles the stress that we feel such as anxiety, irritability, and general unease. This is the part of the brain that produces the withdrawal symptoms that a person feels when the substance begins to wear off and signals to them that they need to take more. Over time, the extended amygdala becomes more and more sensitive as drug use continues and increases, resulting in a feeling of temporary relief instead of a feeling of being high.

Prefrontal Cortex

The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain that controls our ability to do things such as think, solve problems, make decisions, plan, and have self-control. This part of the brain is the last to mature. As a result, it is the part that is most affected amongst teens and young adults who use and abuse illicit substances.

While it’s not as common, there are certain drugs, such as opioids, that can have a negative impact on the stem of the brain. The stem of the brain controls our most basic and also vital functions such as breathing and heart rate.  

How Does Addiction in the Brain Develop?

As we have touched on, the brain essentially controls every function in our body. It also tells us how to feel, what we like, and what makes us feel good. When harmful substances regularly interact with the brain, it not only changes the chemistry of the brain. They also convince the brain that it needs these substances in order to function normally.

In a weird way, once introduced to these substances, our brains essentially encourage addiction. This happens because the drugs and alcohol interact with our limbic system to release strong “feel good” emotions. Our brains are programmed to reward us when we do something that brings our brain pleasure. When the brain gets hooked on these substances and accepts the fact that it likes them, it’ll reward us when we take them. At this point, our brains are encouraging us to become addicted to the drugs or alcohol that we are taking.

What Are Some of the Warning Signs of Addiction in the Brain?

Unfortunately, many people who suffer from addiction don’t actually know that they have an addiction. There are also people who know but who don’t want to seek out help. Knowing some of the warning signs of addiction can go a long way when it comes to determining if there is an issue and getting the help that is needed. 

Here are some of the most common signs that you or someone you know is suffering from addiction in the brain:

Are There Specific Therapies To Address Addiction in the Brain?

A major component of drug treatment is not only to rehab the body but also to rehabilitate the mind. That’s why there are therapy options available that are designed to specifically address the brain and addiction.

Before any addiction treatment can begin though, it is crucial to undergo detox treatment. Detox is done in order to rid the body, and the brain, of these harmful substances. Because of the nature of detox treatment and what it entails, it is very important that detox treatment be done under constant medical supervision. This can be done at a hospital, a dedicated detox facility, or a treatment center that also offers detox services such as CNV Detox.

Once detox has been completed, treatment can begin. One of the most popular treatment methods for the brain is biofeedback therapy. This type of therapy is designed to stabilize and soothe the brain during treatment. Biofeedback allows the treatment professional to monitor the brain and figure out ways to improve brain activity while reducing the effects of addiction.

Biofeedback is regularly used in conjunction with other therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavioral therapy in order to improve overall involuntary functions such as blood pressure, heartbeat, and muscle contraction. 

Do You Suffer From Addiction in the Brain?

Your brain is wired to acknowledge things that it likes and make you feel good and want more of it. While this might be relatively harmless when it comes to things like ice cream or reading a good book, it can be dangerous when it comes to drugs, alcohol, and other illicit substances. 

Addiction in the brain can be dangerous and even life-threatening if not addressed early and addressed properly. At CNV Detox, we know that addiction isn’t a choice. Our number one priority is the health and well-being of anyone who comes to our facility seeking treatment. If you or someone you know is suffering from addiction in the brain, contact us immediately. We want to help you get your life back on track as you go down the road to recovery.