Brain And Addiction: What Does Addiction Do To The Brain?
Addiction impacts the brain on many levels. The chemical compounds in Stimulants, Nicotine, Opioids, alcohol, and Sedatives enter the brain and bloodstream upon use. Once a chemical enters the brain, it can cause people to lose control of their impulses or crave a harmful substance.
When someone develops an addiction, the brain craves the reward of the substance. This is due to the intense stimulation of the brain’s reward system. In response, many users continue to use the substance; this can lead to a host of euphoric feelings and strange behavioral traits. Long-term addiction can have severe outcomes, such as brain damage, and can even result in death.
Brain and Addiction: The Biochemistry Of Addiction
The brain responds to addiction based on several factors, such as the type and number of drugs used, the frequency of use, and the stage of addiction that has developed. If someone uses Cocaine, for example, they will notice a feeling of euphoria. This occurs because Cocaine is Psychoactive and impacts the area of the brain that controls pleasure and motivation. There is a short and powerful burst of dopamine, the chemical that causes many to feel euphoric. This feeling can be so intense that a strong desire to continue using may form.
The more someone abuses a drug, the more they may continue using it unless they get help overcoming a life-threatening addiction. Once the chemical has affected the brain, individuals can feel physical symptoms as well as the impact of the chemical throughout their nervous system. Symptoms can include a rapid heartbeat, paranoia, nausea, hallucinations, and other disturbing sensations the individual has little control over. They may become consumed with abusing the substance to maintain their habit no matter the cost. As a result of this powerful grip of substance abuse, individuals can begin acting in unrecognizable ways; this may concern friends and family.
Brain and Addiction: Rewarding The Brain
The brain regulates temperature, emotion, decision-making, breathing, and coordination. This major organ of the body also impacts physical sensations in the body, cravings, compulsions, and habits. Under the influence of a powerful and harmful chemical, individuals abusing substances like Benzodiazepines or Heroin can alter the function of their brain.
Drugs interact with the limbic system in the brain to release strong feel-good emotions, affecting the individual’s body and mind. Individuals continue taking drugs to support the intense feel-good emotions the brain releases; this creates a cycle of drug use and intense highs. Eventually, they take the drug just to feel normal.
Brain and Addiction: Withdrawal
As a consequence of drug addiction, the brain rewards harmful behavior. It encourages drug addiction, keeping the individual in a cycle of highs and lows; the user may feel like they’re on an emotional roller-coaster, feeling desperation and depression without their substance of abuse. Once someone suddenly stops using, there are harsh mental, physical, and emotional results. Individuals may experience distressing symptoms they cannot ignore for some substances; withdrawal symptoms are generally stronger for some substances than others.
At the point of withdrawal, someone who stops using Heroin experiences intense cravings, depression, anxiety, and sweating. Much of this is due to the rewiring of the brain after extended Heroin use. In this stage, the individual may not have a full-blown addiction; a tolerance or dependency may have developed, however.
Over time, the high volume of chemicals floods the brain; the brain correspondingly adapts to the mental effects of the substance. The brain then reduces its production of neurotransmitters, chemical messengers in the brain. Withdrawal symptoms often need professional treatment, which can significantly help reduce the chance of relapse and the risks of stroke and heart attack.
Brain and Addiction: Brain Damage From Drugs & Alcohol
Brain injury resulting from drug or alcohol use can range from minor damage to brain cells to severe physical damage such as in the case of brain hypoxia due to overdose. Some of these consequences can be more serious and/or persistent, such as in the case of traumatic brain injury (TBI), stroke, and Wernicke–Korsakoff syndrome. Others can include potentially reversible changes such as mild brain atrophy (brain shrinkage) and changes to white matter.
Brain injury or other neurological complications can be a direct or indirect result of substance use. Brain hypoxia (which means a lack of sufficient oxygen to the brain) can result from an overdose of opioids, for example; this is a result of opioids that can significantly decrease the body’s respiratory drive. They can also occur due to poor health and nutrition, accidents, or increased risk-taking behaviors people engage in while they’re intoxicated or because they have a substance use disorder.
Certain substances may have neurotoxic effects at high doses or with chronic exposure. These are substances that may cause damage or injury to brain cells. Taking these substances, especially over longer periods or at certain times in the human aging process, could increase your risk of suffering from substance-related brain changes or neurological issues. For example, high-dose or chronic amphetamine use may accelerate and enhance a person’s age-related decline in dopaminergic function.
Brain Therapies For Addiction
When someone battling addiction enters a facility, they receive medication and have access to innovative treatments. A common treatment to stabilize and soothe the brain after addiction is biofeedback therapy. This allows a professional to monitor the brain. They can figure out how to improve brain activity, reducing the effects of addiction and unhealthy impulses.
Biofeedback uses electroencephalograms (EEGs). EEGs are typically used to help individuals who have suffered traumatic brain injuries and can be helpful to individuals with obsessive-compulsive disorder and other brain disorders. Biofeedback reduces stress and reduces involuntary functions. This therapy can also include meditation, guided imagery, and muscle relaxation.
When this is combined with therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), biofeedback improves the individual’s involuntary functions, like heartbeat, blood pressure, and muscle contraction. Neurofeedback, or EEQ therapy, is a type of biofeedback. This therapy is a brain-training treatment. In the case of addiction, this therapy monitors the brain’s activity. It helps patients to reduce stress and anxiety and can treat compulsions. The result of both therapies is the administrator rewarding the brain to recover how it functions.
Brain and Addiction: Can Addiction Be Treated Successfully?
Addiction is a treatable disorder. Research on the science of addiction and the treatment of substance use disorders has led to the development of research-based methods that help people to stop using drugs and resume productive lives, also known as being in recovery. Like other chronic diseases such as heart disease or asthma, treatment for drug addiction usually isn’t a cure. But addiction can be managed successfully. Treatment enables people to counteract addiction’s disruptive effects on their brain and behavior and regain control of their lives.
Brain and Addiction: Relapse
The chronic nature of addiction means that for some people relapse, or a return to drug use after an attempt to stop, can be part of the process, but newer treatments are designed to help with relapse prevention. Relapse rates for drug use are similar to rates for other chronic medical illnesses. If people stop following their medical treatment plan, they are likely to relapse.
Treatment of chronic diseases involves changing deeply rooted behaviors, and relapse doesn’t mean treatment has failed. When a person recovering from addiction relapses, it indicates that the person needs to speak with their doctor to resume treatment, modify it, or try another treatment.
While relapse is a normal part of recovery, for some drugs, it can be very dangerous—even deadly. If a person uses as much of the drug as they did before quitting, they can easily overdose because their bodies are no longer adapted to their previous level of drug exposure. An overdose happens when the person uses enough of a drug to produce uncomfortable feelings, life-threatening symptoms, or death.
Brain and Addiction: What are the principles of effective treatment?
Research shows that when treating addictions to opioids (prescription pain relievers or drugs like heroin or fentanyl), medication should be the first line of treatment, usually combined with some form of behavioral therapy or counseling. Medications are also available to help treat addiction to alcohol and nicotine.
Additionally, medications are used to help people detoxify from drugs, although detoxification is not the same as treatment and is not sufficient to help a person recover. Detoxification alone without subsequent treatment generally leads to the resumption of drug use.
For people with addictions to drugs like stimulants or cannabis, no medications are currently available to assist in treatment, so treatment consists of behavioral therapies. Treatment should be tailored to address each patient’s drug use patterns and drug-related medical, mental, and social problems.
Brain and Addiction: What medications and devices help treat drug addiction?
Different types of medications may be useful at different stages of treatment to help a patient stop abusing drugs, stay in treatment, and avoid relapse.
- Treating withdrawal: When patients first stop using drugs, they can experience various physical and emotional symptoms, including restlessness or sleeplessness, as well as depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions. Certain treatment medications and devices reduce these symptoms, which makes it easier to stop drug use.
- Staying in treatment: Some treatment medications and mobile applications are used to help the brain adapt gradually to the absence of the drug. These treatments act slowly to help prevent drug cravings and have a calming effect on body systems. They can help patients focus on counseling and other psychotherapies related to their drug treatment.
- Preventing relapse: Science has taught us that stress cues linked to drug use (such as people, places, things, and moods), and contact with drugs are the most common triggers for relapse. Scientists have been developing therapies to interfere with these triggers to help patients stay in recovery.
Reclaim Your Life From Addiction
There are several links between the brain and addiction. Substance abuse can negatively affect the brain leading even to severe brain damage. We Level Up Treatment Center can provide you, or someone you love, treatment for substance use disorder with professional and safe care. Feel free to call us to speak with one of our counselors. We can inform you about this condition by giving you relevant information. Our specialists know what you are going through. Please know that each call is private and confidential.
 National Institute on Drug Abuse – Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction
 Dimeff, L. A., & Linehan, M. M. (2008). Dialectical behavior therapy for substance abusers. Addiction science & clinical practice, 4(2), 39–47.
 Gray S. N. (2017). An Overview of the Use of Neurofeedback Biofeedback for the Treatment of Symptoms of Traumatic Brain Injury in Military and Civilian Populations. Medical acupuncture, 29(4), 215–219.
 National Institute on Drug Abuse – Health Consequences of Drug Misuse. Neurological Effects
 National Institute on Drug Abuse – What are the other medical consequences of inhalant abuse?