Understanding the Disease of Addiction
Addiction is a difficult concept to grasp. Most people believe when someone is struggling to put the bottle down, has a problem with opioids, or is abusing other drugs like cocaine that is a moral downfall or a lack of willpower. However, the problem is actually much more complex than that.
Addiction is a disease and chronic illness that is accompanied by neurological changes in the brain.
The first time an individual takes a drug or uses alcohol they are doing so voluntarily; however, as more time passes, they start to need more and more of their substance of abuse to feel the desired effects. Due to this development of tolerance and the withdrawal side effects that occur when the drug is not in the body – seeking out and taking their substance becomes a daily, nearly constant activity that can lead to significant, sometimes irreparable, damage to their relationships.
As the problem progresses further, changes and conditions in the brain leads to compulsive and uncontrollable substance abuse that we understand as addiction. Soon, users will no longer be able to voluntarily control their habits which can continue to whittle away at whatever relationship are remaining.
Let’s look closer at the changes that occur in the brain that led to the way for addiction to take hold.
How Addiction Takes Hold in the Brain
There are a number of areas and key processes in the brain that are altered when substance abuse is introduced. One of the most notable is the way it influences dopamine levels in the brain. Dopamine is a pleasure-stimulating neurotransmitter that is released in response to natural rewards such as exercise.
When released naturally, dopamine is a good thing it lets the body and brain know that what you just did was good. However, when drugs are thrown into the equation, it can become disastrous. Drugs and alcohol will hijack this dopamine teaching the brain that drugs are good, this causes the drug to produce a euphoric feeling, which reinforces drug-taking behaviors.
To make matters worse, drugs release 2 to 10 times as much dopamine as natural rewards, which, in turn, increases the feelings of pleasure that one experiences. Continued substance abuse leads to less total dopamine produced by the brain. To counter this, users will begin taking more of their respective substances in order to get the desired pleasurable effects that they once felt.
As they use more of their substance, it further progresses this dopamine shortage, which causes them to use more of the substance. It becomes a dangerous cyclical effect that can easily lead to disastrous results like major financial problems, ruined relationships, potential overdose, and death.
Unfortunately, the disease of addiction can lead to changes in the brain that may persist for years, even after a person quits. This is why the risk of relapse is a constant struggle that people, even those who are 15 years sober, may struggle with.
These brain changes are almost entirely dependent on the type of substance being used and the individual who is using them. This is why it is vital to find addiction treatment that takes an individualized approach rather than a one-size-fits-all method.
Getting help for a substance abuse problem may seem difficult, and it is. However, addiction can be managed successfully. And, individuals who enter, make a commitment, and remain in a treatment program, such as a luxury addiction rehabilitation facility, will have a better chance of conquering their problem than those that don’t seek professional help.
About the Author
Joe Gilmore is a creator on behalf of The Hope House, a drug and alcohol addiction treatment center dedicated to helping people achieve long-term sobriety.