One of the classic symptoms of addiction is that it changes the functioning of the brain. When a person is experiencing addiction, the brain continues to be stimulated by the substance. Over time, that activation becomes so strong that a person begins to believe that they need the drug or alcohol in order to survive. This creates that experience of drinking or using drugs even though a person may not want to. The inability to stop using substances is the result of addiction’s effect on the brain.
Understanding the Brain
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. Plus, changes in the brain interfere with a person’s ability to think clearly, exercise good judgment, control 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 the mind will find numerous ways to deny the addiction and underestimate the severity of the addiction.
Important Aspects to Recovery
For this reason, understanding what helps the brain heal can be an important part of recovery. Researchers now understand that the brain stem plays a significant role in addiction and substance abuse treatment. In general, there are four parts of the brain that govern a person’s experiences in life. These are:
- Cerebral Hemispheres – The left and right hemispheres make up the part of the brain that are uniquely human. They are responsible for collecting information, processing, making connections, generating thought, and controlling emotions. When there are problems with parts of the cerebral hemispheres, there is likely mental illness. For instance, when the amygdala, hippocampus, prefrontal cortex, and the anterior cingulate cortex are impaired, so is the mental health of that individual.
- Thalamus and Hypothalamus – These two parts of the brain are small but significant. They regulate important levels of functioning, such as sleep and body temperature. The thalamus is responsible for the messages received by the senses and then delivers it to the cerebral hemispheres for processing. It is also responsible for our experience of consciousness, sleep, and alertness. The hypothalamus regulates temperature, hunger, thirst, and energy cycles.
- Brain Stem – This part of the brain regulates daily life functions such as breathing and the functioning of the heart. It also plays a role in our experience of reward and pleasure and is significant in the experiences of mania and addiction. Most drugs activate the brain’s reward system, which is the key to developing an addiction. This reward system can perpetuate the need for the drug until it becomes the sole focus of an individual’s life.
- Cerebellum – This is sometimes known as the little brain in that it also has two sides that communicate between one another. This part of the brain regulates coordination, movement, posture, and balance.
If you are experiencing the effects of addiction on your life, understanding the illness of addiction and its effects on the brain can help create healing. However, it’s also important to get professional help in order to break down the destructive addiction cycle. Recovery doesn’t only include learning about the brain, but it also needs to include getting the right kind of professional support, gathering the support of friends and family, and making a plan for your recovery.