If you’ve made it to the Family Recovery Solutions of Florida blog, you’re probably familiar with the far-reaching effects addiction can have not only for the addict, but for parents and families of addicts as well. But how much do you know about what addiction does to the brain? Part of the struggle with breaking the cycle of addiction and helping an addict recover is the deeply impactful effects drug addiction can have on the brain. If you have a loved one struggling with addiction, don’t fight for their well-being alone. Family Recovery Solutions of Florida is here to offer support and tools for parents and families of alcoholics and drug addicts, so you can break the cycle of addiction. To better understand what the addict in your life is facing, here are the basics of what alcohol and drug addiction do to the brain.
Basics of Addiction
Just because someone has become addicted to drugs or alcohol does not mean they are inherently weak-willed or flawed in some way. Scientific study into the subject has shown that addiction is a chronic disease that has enough effect to actually alter how the brain functions. The primary concern in one’s brain, in terms of addiction, is that substances trigger a pleasurable response in the brain. Nearly anything that makes you happy, from earning a good bonus to enjoying chocolate cake, triggers a release of dopamine. This is largely what makes your brain recognize that thing or activity as pleasurable.
Once dopamine has been released after an activity or action, your brain will create a connection between the memory of that activity and that rewarding surge of dopamine. The reason alcohol and drugs can be so deeply addictive is because the triggered release of dopamine and the way it connects to memories is exponentially more powerful when taking drugs than what happens when you eat a piece of chocolate. In essence, when one drinks alcohol or takes a drug, the surge of released dopamine is much greater and faster than a standard pleasure response. Because addictive substances trigger a stronger and faster release of dopamine, your brain connects your memories of that substance to a deep enjoyment much faster and stronger than it normally would. Because it is the substance itself triggering that response, it doesn’t matter which method an addict uses to intake the substance. So, for example, injecting a drug and smoking it will have the same effects on the brain.
The Brain Learns From It
The dopamine release process, because it taps into memory creation, also affects the brain’s learning system. Not only do drugs and alcohol trigger a strong pleasure response, the released dopamine interacts with glutamate to take over the brain’s reward-based learning process. This is the part of the brain that links together activities necessary for survival, like eating, with dopamine so our brains learn to do those activities that are necessary to keep us going. That boosted level of dopamine release in combination with glutamate hijacks the reward-based learning system in the brain and creates an ingrained behavior in which the brain basically says the substance is good, helpful, or generally necessary to one’s survival, which compels the addict to keep using the substance.
Effects Over Time
As the addict keeps using the substance, this reward response cycle builds up in the brain, which adapts and the substance becomes less and less effective. The increased levels of dopamine release can overwhelm the brain’s receptors, which the brain combats by either producing less dopamine or cutting off receptors. This is how a tolerance is built up, which means the brain needs more and more of the substance to achieve the same effect. From there, the extreme pleasure associated with the memories of using the substance compel the addict to seek out new ways to get more of the substance or find a different substance to achieve the same high levels of dopamine release.
Breaking The Cycle
Because the response to drugs and alcohol becomes so deeply ingrained in the brain’s responses, it can be impossible to break the cycle of addiction without professional help. If you have a loved one showing signs of alcoholism or drug addiction, they should seek an addiction counselor. Overcoming addiction can be just as hard for the families of alcoholics and drug addicts. If someone you love is struggling with addiction, get the tools to help them without hurting yourself. Call Family Recovery Solutions of Florida for workshops and private counseling in Palm Beach!