Understanding Neuroscience Of Addiction

Understanding the neuroscience of addiction can help you understand the nature of your disease. While some believe that alcohol or drug addiction are character flaws or due to a lack of morals, neuroscience says otherwise. Like other chronic diseases, addiction can be treated, and you can recover from this disease.

Addiction Is A Chronic Disease

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), “Addiction is defined as a chronic, relapsing disorder characterized by compulsive drug seeking, continued use despite harmful consequences, and long-lasting changes in the brain.” Like other chronic diseases, you can make a recovery where you experience fewer or no symptoms of addiction.

Many chronic diseases require ongoing treatment to maintain health and wellness. For example, those with asthma might need to take steps to prevent attacks or flare-ups of symptoms by exercising regularly, keeping a healthy weight, and managing allergy triggers. They might be prone to trouble breathing, asthma attacks, or worsening their disease without preventative measures.

Similarly, addiction requires you to maintain health and wellness to keep your disease from relapsing. To avoid relapse and successfully recover from addiction, you can:

  • Attend support groups
  • Treat underlying mental health disorders
  • Maintain healthy relationships
  • Avoid triggers of alcohol or substance use
  • Lead a healthy lifestyle

Since addiction is a brain disorder, it is essential to understand the neuroscience behind addiction.

Neuroscience Of Addiction

Alcohol and drug use affect the way that the brain functions. Often, substances can cause damage to the brain when they are used in excess. While some people use substances without becoming addicted, others are more vulnerable to addiction due to underlying factors.

NIDA identifies three main factors that influence who gets addicted versus who doesn’t:

  1. Biology: 
    • You might have a genetic predisposition to addiction that others do not.
    • A common risk factor of addiction is having a parent or close relative with substance or alcohol abuse issues.
    • You might also be predisposed to an underlying mental health issue, leading to addiction if you self-medicate with drugs or alcohol.
  1. Environment:
    • If you grow up or live in an environment where alcohol or substance abuse occurs often, you might be more prone to addiction.
    • Additionally, peer pressure, abuse, your relationship with your parents, and the attitudes of those around you regarding drugs and alcohol impact your chances of getting addicted or not.
    • Experiencing trauma at an early age can also increase your chances of developing a substance use disorder and an addiction.
  1. Development:
    • Developmental issues of addiction refer to your age when you first tried substances or alcohol.
    • Generally, the earlier that you experiment with substances, the more likely you are to become addicted.
    • When you are young, your brain is still developing, and substance use can affect your brain’s development.

Your brain might become more vulnerable to addiction when one or more of these factors influence you to abuse drugs or alcohol. Drugs and alcohol hijack your brain’s natural reward system, making it challenging to quit.

The Brain’s Reward System Behind Neuroscience Of Addiction

The brain’s reward system is the driving factor behind the neuroscience of addiction. Your brain has naturally occurring chemicals that make you feel good when you do things like help others, have sex, exercise or accomplish a goal. These chemicals are crucial to your learning and developmental process, which is why drinking or using drugs during adolescence can make you more susceptible to develop an addiction.

Drugs, like opioids, can mimic these naturally occurring chemicals in your brain. Drugs and alcohol also flood the brain with these “feel good” chemicals by blocking them from being taken back up or creating a “surge” of these chemicals.

According to the Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health, all addictive drugs, including alcohol, opioids, and cocaine, produce a pleasurable surge of the neurotransmitter dopamine in a region of the brain called the basal ganglia.” 

As you use more and more drugs or alcohol, your brain becomes less sensitive to chemicals like dopamine, and you need more to get the same effects. You might even find it difficult to enjoy anything normally pleasurable without the aid of drugs or alcohol. Fortunately, your brain can heal during sobriety, and you can relearn natural ways to feel good.

Healing In Recovery

Your brain has what is called “neuroplasticity” in the field of neuroscience. “Neuro” refers to the brain itself, while “plasticity” refers to the ability to adapt or change. While alcohol and substance use changed your brain by damaging your brain’s reward system, recovery can help to heal your brain.

Recovery from addiction is a long-term process because your brain will need time to heal from the effects of addiction. You first need to detox to get substances out of your system, which will prevent further damage from being inflicted upon your brain. Following detox, a comprehensive treatment plan can help you maintain sobriety and lead a healthy lifestyle free of drugs and alcohol. 

As each day goes by and you learn healthy skills to cope with stress and other underlying issues, your brain continues to heal throughout treatment and long-term recovery. 

Addiction Treatment In South Florida

The neuroscience of addiction can make it challenging to quit without the support and professional guidance. Ambrosia Treatment Center of West Palm Beach is here to help residents of South Florida overcome addiction and heal their brain’s reward system in recovery. Your life is waiting; we’ll help you get there.

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