It wasn’t until recently that the illness of addiction has been seen as an illness of the brain. In other words, addiction can have such a severe effect on the brain that it can continue to deteriorate one’s life. This article will review the relationship between addiction and the functioning of the brain.
Brain research has revealed that a healthy brain is one that can continue to make new neural connections and release old ones. The connections between neurons are important in a person’s learning, behavior, communication, memory formation, mood regulation, and overall mental health. Yet, when a drug enters the brain, it locks onto the receptors and activates the nerve cells. However, because the drug is not the neurotransmitter that is intended for that receptor, the neurons end up sending abnormal messages throughout the brain. Of course, this leads to hallucination, abnormal thoughts, and change in perception.
And this is precisely what brings pleasure. It’s fun at first to feel a buzz from alcohol or a high from marijuana. These experiences lead us to go back again and again for more of those pleasurable experiences. But returning again and again to a drug begins to create a physical and psychological dependency, and this is where the trouble starts.
It’s clear now that the regular use of alcohol, especially the ongoing use of harsh drugs such as methamphetamine, can significantly alter the brain, sometimes resulting in brain damage. What happens is that foreign substances, such as recreational drugs, affect the ability for neurons to communicate with one another. Experts in the field of drug and alcohol addiction have known that addiction usually shows a significant increase in dopamine in the brain as well as the presence of glutamate, the brain’s excitatory chemical. Increase or decrease of dopamine in the brain can affect the communication between neurons and affect the functioning of the brain.
What’s worse is that addiction is like an ever worsening disease, further damaging the brain. When a person is experiencing addiction, his or her brain continues to be stimulated by whatever he or she is addicted to. And that activation is so strong that the addiction becomes the sole focus of one’s life to the exclusion and detriment of other life-activities. The stimulation in the brain creates desire to continue to use, which only makes the addiction stronger and harder to break. Addiction can feel like a noose around one’s neck, the more you try to get out of it, the tighter it gets.
Once addicted, the brain requires that substance to the point of needing it like you would need other survival behaviors, such as eating and drinking. Add to this the fact that changes in your brain interfere with your ability to think clearly, exercise good judgment, control your behavior, and feel normal without drugs. An addict has less and less sound judgment that might otherwise help them make better decisions to help them end the addiction. In fact, the yearning to use becomes so strong that your mind will find numerous ways to deny the addiction and underestimate the severity of the addiction.
This is precisely why someone who is experiencing an addiction requires the support of a team of professionals. A doctor, therapist, psychologist, and sponsor can all facilitate the end of an addiction. But it takes willingness, determination, and courage from the addict.
With an enough support, regardless of the strength of the addiction, it’s possible to recover!
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