What happens to the brain when substances are abused and cause addiction? An addicted brain can create a bunch of issues that may explain the change in behavior, challenging thought processes, and the inability to stop using substances.
Addiction: This is Your Brain on Drugs
If anyone remembers the television commercial in the ’80s of an egg frying in a pan, then you probably know the slogan attached to it as, “this is your brain on drugs.” But what really is your brain on drugs doing?
Addiction to drugs and alcohol is caused by the brain building a tolerance to a substance and the need to create more dopamine release. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that sends signals to other nerve cells throughout the brain. It is a chemical responsible for feelings of reward, behavior, memory, and movement. When a drug is ingested and makes us feel better, the brain uses memory and association to what was just used. When our brains remember something pleasurable, the cycle of using and addiction continues. Some substances release more dopamine than others. Heroin, for instance, releases the most amount of dopamine than any other drug, making it one of the most addictive.
The cycle of addiction looks like this:
- A person takes a substance
- The substance goes into the bloodstream where it travels to the brain
- The brain responds by producing dopamine
- Dopamine releases into the person
Because of the release of such high levels of dopamine, the brain builds up a resistance to the amount of substance taken. Therefore, the person needs to take more substances for the same or similar feeling.
- The person takes more of the substance
- The brain produces more dopamine, building up more tolerance for the substance
- The cycle repeats until the person cannot stop using
- The person now has an addiction
Dopamine was once thought to be the chemical that produced pleasure sensations and is now regarded to have more to do with the repetition of activities which make us feel good, as a reinforcement and attachment to the memory of it.
What happens to the brain when dopamine isn’t released?
When someone is using drugs and alcohol to obtain a release of dopamine and is considered to have an addiction, the person’s behavior can radically shift from easy-going to downright rageful. When there is a physical dependency towards a substance, the removal of that substance will often lead to symptoms of withdrawal. Withdrawal is a period where a person is in an uncomfortable and often painful physical state that affects the entire body as the toxins leave the system.
When someone uses for a long time, they may develop what is called, “paradoxical decompensation.” This means that when the substance is gone, the person is worse off than before they started taking it. Other symptoms may then show up which were not present. For example, people who use antidepressants may find that over time they stop working altogether, and then increase their depression levels.
Nobody starts out wanting to have an addiction to drugs or alcohol, but many do get accidentally caught into the cycle. If you feel that you have a problem with substances and that it is affecting your life, consider treatment options here at Carus Recovery.
The trouble with addiction is that it gets progressively worse without treatment. If you or someone you know appears to have an addiction, please reach out for help before it’s too late. The team at CARUS Recovery, a nationally-known drug and alcohol treatment center in Los Angeles, is ready to answer your questions and give you the support you need. Call us at 877-225-7724 to learn more about our programs and services.