Addiction and the Brain

Last Updated: Feb 24th 2020

Reviewed by Brittany Polansky

It’s impossible to understand addiction separately from the brain. Although there are many factors leading to addiction development, the brain is largely responsible for the disease. This is because many illicit substances alter brain chemistry. Take a look at addiction and the brain to see, specifically, how they affect one another.

The Brain Makes Drugs and Alcohol Temporarily Feel Good

Overall, the brain does more than just make decisions. It’s the command center for the entire body. When you take drugs, the brain releases chemicals that cause the entire body to feel euphoric.

Of course, any pleasurable sensations from addictive substances don’t last forever. Most effects wear off quickly, leaving the brain and body craving more. This creates a cognitive roller coaster where the brain constantly seeks more and more pleasure.

Abuse of Substances Changes the Brain’s Reward System

When you’re thirsty, your brain sends signals to drink water. When you drink water, your body feels better almost immediately. This is the basic cognitive reward system. However, drugs, alcohol, and other addictive substances hijack this integral system.

Substances like drugs and alcohol flood the cognitive reward system with feel-good chemicals including dopamine. This creates intense highs, but also permanently changes the brain’s understanding of physical rewards. Following drug use, natural sources of dopamine no longer register. For example, great food and companionship won’t create enough dopamine to compete with drugs or alcohol.

The Brain Increases its Tolerance Rapidly

Another dangerous way addiction impacts the brain is through tolerance increase. When a person starts using drugs, a small dose is usually substantial for creating high dopamine levels. In turn, this creates the desire for a better high.

However, after a few weeks, the brain evolves. When tolerance increases, it needs more dopamine to feel the same effects. This is why many people continuously consume higher doses of their drug of choice.

Above all, taking larger amounts of dangerous substance isn’t a good idea. Higher substance levels lead to more health risks, financial hardship, and greater chances of overdose. How do you break free from this cycle?

Addressing Addiction and the Brain in Recovery

Overall, conquering drug addiction is challenging because it involves learning to function without drugs. The longer you delay addiction treatment, the tougher this process is. Fortunately, 1st Step Behavioral Health has the tools to help you overcome addiction once and for all.

With the right treatment, you’ll take control of your future. Your brain will no longer be under the influence of damaging substances. Reaching successful recovery is possible with the following, evidence-based addiction treatment programs we offer:

Addiction severely affects cognitive functioning, but recovery helps you take control once more. At 1st Step Behavioral Health in Pompano Beach, Florida, you’re able to work toward successful sobriety in a comfortable, caring environment. For the necessary support and advice about addiction and the brain call (866) 319-6126 today.

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Brittany Polansky

Brittany PolanskyBrittany has been working in behavioral health since 2012 and is a Primary Clinician at our facility. She is an LCSW and holds a master’s degree in social work. She has great experience with chemical dependency and co-occurring mental health diagnoses as well as various therapeutic techniques. Brittany is passionate about treating all clients with dignity and respect, and providing a safe environment where clients can begin their healing journey in recovery.