What Does Addiction Do to the Brain?
Addiction impacts the brain on many levels. The chemical compounds in stimulants, nicotine, opioids, alcohol, and sedatives enter the brain and bloodstream upon use. Once a chemical enters the brain, it can cause people to lose control of their impulses or crave a harmful substance.
When someone develops an addiction, the brain craves the reward of the substance. This is due to the intense stimulation of the brain’s reward system. In response, many continue use of the substance, unlocking a host of euphoric feelings and strange behavioral traits. Long-term addiction can have severe outcomes, such as brain damage, and can even result in death.
The Biochemistry of Addiction
The brain responds to addiction based on a number of factors, such as the type and number of drugs used, the frequency, and the stage of addiction. For example, if someone uses cocaine, they will notice a feeling of euphoria. This occurs because cocaine is psychoactive and impacts the area of the brain that controls pleasure and motivation. Therefore, there is a short, but powerful burst of dopamine—the chemical that causes many to feel euphoric. This feeling can be so intense that a strong desire to continue using may form.
The more someone abuses a drug, the more they may continue using it, unless they get help overcoming a life-threatening addiction. Once the chemical has affected the brain, individuals can feel physical symptoms, as well as the impact of the chemical throughout their nervous system. These can include a rapid heartbeat, paranoia, nausea, hallucinations, and other disturbing sensations the individual has little control over. He or she may become consumed with abusing the substance to maintain their habit, no matter the cost. As a result of this powerful grip of substance abuse, individuals can begin acting in unrecognizable ways, concerning friends and family.
Rewarding The Brain: How Addictions Develop
The brain regulates temperature, emotions, decision-making, breathing and coordination. This major organ in the body also impacts physical sensations in the body, emotions, cravings, compulsions and habits. Under the influence of a powerful, but harmful chemical, individuals abusing substances like benzodiazepines or heroin can alter the function of their brain.
Drugs interact with the limbic system in the brain to release strong feel-good emotions, affecting the individual’s body and mind. Our brains reward us when we do something that brings us pleasure. To illustrate, individuals continue taking drugs to support the intense feel good emotions the brain releases, thus creating a cycle of drug use and intense highs. Eventually, they take the drug just to feel normal.
The Brain, Addiction, and Withdrawal
As a consequence of drug addiction, the brain rewards the brain. It encourages drug addiction, keeping the individual in a cycle of highs and lows, on an emotional roller-coaster, feeling desperation and depression without it. Once someone suddenly stops, there are harsh mental, physical, and emotional results. Individuals may experience distressing symptoms they cannot ignore for some substances, withdrawal symptoms are generally stronger for some substances than others.
At the point of withdrawal, someone who stop using heroin feels intense cravings, depression, anxiety and sweating. Much of this is due to the rewiring of the brain after extended heroin use. In this stage, the individual may not have a full-blown addiction, but may have developed a tolerance or dependency. Over time, the high volume of chemicals floods the brain, causing it to adapt to the mental effects of the substance. The brain then reduces its production of neurotransmitters, or chemical messengers in the brain. Withdrawal symptoms often need professional treatment, which can significantly help reduce the chance of relapse and the risks of stroke or heart attacks.
Brain Therapies for Addiction
When someone battling addiction enters a facility, they receive medication and have access to innovative treatments. A common treatment to stabilize and soothe the brain after addiction is biofeedback therapy. This allows a professional to monitors the brain. They can figure out how to improve brain activity, reducing the effects of addiction and unhealthy impulses. Two common types include neurofeedback and biofeedback.
Biofeedback uses what is called Electroencephalograms (EEG). EEGs are typically used to help individuals who have suffered traumatic brain injuries and can be helpful to individuals with obsessive compulsive disorders and other brain disorders. Biofeedback reduces stress and reduces involuntary functions, as a professional monitor the brain with electric sensors on the individual’s skin. This therapy includes meditation, guided imagery and muscle relaxation.
When this is combined with therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), or dialectical behavioral therapy, biofeedback both improves the individual’s involuntary functions, like heartbeat, blood pressure, and muscle contraction. Neurofeedback, or EEQ therapy, is a type of biofeedback. This therapy is a brain training treatment which improves its function. In the case of addiction, this therapy monitors the brain’s activity like biofeedback does. It helps patients to reduce stress and anxiety and can treat compulsions. The end result of both therapies is the administrator rewarding the brain to recover how it functions.