Understanding Your Addiction: Addiction Hijacks Your Brain
You need to understand your addiction and how addiction hijacks your brain. Addiction grabs hold of you right at your body’s information center, altering the brain in many powerful ways. Repeated exposure to substances can impact how your body reacts to everyday events, stressful situations and even the drugs or alcohol that you’ve come to crave. A brain hijacking is an apt metaphor: with addiction at the wheel, it steers you right toward the substance that will provide those euphoric feelings associated with your first high or buzz. Here’s some information to help you better understand your addition.
Understanding Addiction: Drugs Can Alter the Brain’s Reward System
As humans, when we eat, have sex or fulfill any biological need, the brain releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter closely associated with feelings of pleasure. This creates a “reward pathway,” which alerts the body that a task necessary for survival or propagation of the species has occurred. This sends the brain the message that original action should be sought out in the future. Our ancestors worked hard to hunt, gather food and find a mate, so it makes sense that the body rewarded this expended energy. Some substances, however, can cause a spike in dopamine, up to 10 times the release that occurs naturally. This surge of neurotransmitters, and the associated feelings of euphoria, can cause a number of problems over time.
Understanding Addiction: Too Much of A Good Thing
If the brain is regularly exposed to large amounts of dopamine, it loses its ability to naturally produce the chemical. This dulling is one reason substances seem to become the only thing that can really create a good feeling in your body. (To some people, a cupcake might fire off a pleasure signal, but in the brain of an addict, a “normal” amount of dopamine doesn’t have the same effect.) Over time, the body develops a tolerance to the dopamine flooding, which can cause people to seek substances in greater frequency or quantity. This tolerance can also damage brain cells.
Understanding Addiction: Senses Causing Cravings to Kick In
To understand addiction, you need to understand that the brain can also begin to associate certain objects or settings with pleasure and substances, which means dopamine can be released at the sight of a glass of wine or a friend’s house where you often use (or whatever images and situations are connected with substances in your own mind). It’s called “conditioned learning,” it causes craving and it’s one reason addiction is so difficult to overcome. If your triggers aren’t followed by the anticipated action, dopamine decreases, causing your mood to drop.
Understanding Addiction: Addiction Changing the Structure of Your Brain
Studies have found chronic exposure to alcohol, methamphetamine and cocaine can negatively impact the frontal cortex, which can affect your ability to make decisions. Frequent drug use can cause changes in the brain that lead to lowered inhibitions, which is why some addicts put themselves in dangerous situations to acquire substances.
The important thing to remember about understanding addiction is that addiction is not your fate. Even though your brain might be urging you to take a drink or use, it doesn't always have to be that way. Through therapy and time in rehabilitation, it's possible to redirect the pathways in your brain. Just as your brain changed when it was exposed to substances, with time and commitment, it can change again, adapting to a new, substance-free lifestyle.
This post was written by:
Patricia L. Ryding, Psy.D is Executive Director of Beach House Center for Recovery, a drug and alcohol addiction rehabilitation center in Juno Beach, Florida. She is a licensed clinical psychologist who brings over 30 years of experience as both a clinician and an administrator in the behavioral healthcare field to her writing.
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Author, G. (2016, February 16). Understanding Your Addiction: Addiction Hijacks Your Brain, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, July 20 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/yourmentalhealth/2016/02/understanding-your-addiction-addiction-hijacks-your-brain