The Addicted Brain
If you or someone you know has an addiction, you may be confused as to how you became addicted in the first place. For those who have never been addicted to anything in their life, it may seem like it’s just a matter of self-discipline and control. They may not necessarily understand how addiction works and what addiction brain changes can occur. To help you and those who don’t necessarily understand addiction, this article will discuss how addiction and the brain interact with one another. A better understanding of this issue can lead to a better understanding overall and improvement in addiction treatment.
In order to understand how addiction works, you first need to examine the human brain. When you eat an extremely delicious meal, watch a favorite movie, or even have satisfying sex, the positive emotions and stimulation that you receive from that activity is processed by a certain part of your brain. Whenever a pleasurable or positive stimulation occurs, the brain releases a neurotransmitter known as dopamine. This neurotransmitter, along with a few others, is responsible for making you feel happy.
When a drug enters your system, however, it ends to create a shortcut to that pleasure center of your brain. The drug itself is what creates the dopamine instead of relying on the brain to create it naturally. Since the brain is wired to enjoy pleasurable stimulation, it becomes conditioned to respond to the drug and its rapid release of dopamine.
How often someone uses a drug is typically determined by the pleasure center of the brain. If the drug gives a quick sensation of pleasure, and it’s potent, then chances are the addiction is going to be more severe. The reward center of the brain, after all, is literally wired to pursue activities that derive pleasure.
There’s also another factor in the brain that drugs play a heavy role in. Brain receptors and addiction have a nasty relationship in that the neurotransmitter of dopamine also works closely with the brain functions for learning and memory. Dopamine interacts with glutamate, which is another neurotransmitter and is responsible for the reward-related learning process.
Its primary job is to link survival-required habits like eating and sex with a pleasurable and positive stimulation so that the brain desires more of it and keeps the body alive. Drugs essentially hijack this process and overload it. As such, it makes the brain not just like the drug, but it also makes it want the drug. No longer is the drug a fun pastime, but the brain has become wired to believe that it is necessary for the body’s survival.
Addicted Brains And Normal Brains
One of the biggest differences between an addiction brain vs normal brain has to do with tolerance. The brain doesn’t have processes put into place to deal with being overstimulated and overloaded. Because of this, when you overload your brain with dopamine from a drug, then the brain shuts off the dopamine-producing processes or the dopamine receptors. Essentially, an addicted person is no longer able to naturally create dopamine.
When that occurs, all they’re left with is the drug-form of dopamine. However, since tolerance can be built, they have to take more and more of the drug in order to receive the same pleasurable and positive effect. This is quite different from a normal brain that produces dopamine naturally and thus keeps the receptors sharp and able to interact with the regulated production of dopamine. Addiction essentially takes over the brain and its pleasure center processes.