Drug Addiction On The Brain


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Drug Addiction Is A Disease

Mechanism of Drug Addiction in the Brain, Animation.

Its not a moral failing or a lack of willpower. Drug addiction is a disease that breaks down the individuals ability to use self-control.

The first time someone uses, its usually a voluntary choice. But the drug can alter the brains functioning to the point where they make choices they never would normally.

Not only does drug addiction cause intense cravings, but it breaks down your ability to resist them. Thats why its so powerful.

Helping The Brain Recover From Addiction

Research on the brains recovery is limited and still relatively new. Less than a century ago, scientists thought the mature brain stopped developing new cells we now know the brain continues to create new cells and neural pathways. However, addiction recovery takes time, discipline, support, and patience. Before the brain can begin healing, the body must be clean of any residual substance. Detox can take several days to several weeks, depending on the substance and how long an individual has struggled with addiction.

The brain will start recovering the volume of lost grey matter within one week of the last drink with alcohol. Other areas of the brain and the white matter in the pre-frontal cortex take several months or longer to recover.

Rebuilding the neural pathways to reinforce healthier choices and habits depends on each individuals circumstances. Opioids and cocaine are highly addictive, which makes them more challenging to re-configure deeply ingrained neural circuits. Additionally, the longer a substance is abused, the more solidified the neural pathway for that behavior becomes.

Most drugs change dopamine levels. Many variables determine whether or not the brains capacity to release and re-uptake dopamine will ever fully recover. In addition to the specific substance and length of use, dopamine recovery depends on a persons age, genetics, mental health, and how many drugs were used simultaneously.


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Addiction And The Brains Reward System

Addictive drugs stimulate what scientists refer to as the brains reward center, a collection of areas that provide feelings of achievement and motivation when stimulated. Harvard Health notes that addictive drugs provide a shortcut to activation of the brains pleasure center. Then, the authors note, the hippocampus lays down memories of this rapid sense of satisfaction, and the amygdala creates a conditioned response to certain stimuli. This conditioned response to the drugs one uses can develop into cravings with continued drug use. Soon, a tolerance can develop whereby the brains reward system is much less sensitive to stimulation by both drug-related and nondrug-related rewards than before. This reduces a persons overall motivation, as well as feelings of drug-related euphoria, driving individuals to use more of the substance to achieve the same effects as before.

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Epigenetic Mechanisms Underlying Learning And Memory

Cellular differentiation and phenotypic manifestation is heavily influenced by epigenetic mechanisms. However, as discussed in the previous section, classical epigenetic mechanisms involve some aspect of cell division. Stepping outside the realm of epigenetic inheritance in mitotic cells, the adult brain consists primarily of glia and postmitotic neurons, with very limited potential for proliferation . If the cellular epigenetic toolbox is not utilized for the purpose of cell division or fate determination, another function must justify active regulation seen in these cells. Accumulating evidence suggests that epigenetic mechanisms play an important role in the formation and maintenance of memory in the brain.

The Anatomy Of Addiction

Infographics show the damage substance abuse can do to the brain

With enough reinforcement, drug users move on to the stages of addiction known as craving and dependence. Dependence is an ambiguous word, sometimes used to mean physical and sometimes psychological dependence. Yet these are very different states, andperhaps not surprisinglythey employ different parts of the brain.

Drugs can cause a host of changes to parts of the brain that control body functions, especially the brain stem and spinal cord. These alterations produce physical dependence on the drug. When the drug supply stops, the result can be a sickness called withdrawal. Withdrawal from heroin is a ghastly experience, and alcohol withdrawal can actually be fatal.

A natural brain compound called BDNF can rescue dopamine-producing neurons from alteration by morphine. At left is a normal dopamine-producing neuron in the ventral tegmental area of a rat’s brain. Repeated administration of morphine shrinks the neuron perceptibly . However, when BDNF is administered along with morphine, no shrinkage occurs . Photos: Eric Nestler.

Historically, withdrawal illness has been regarded as the telltale sign of an addictive drug. Many researchers, however, now reject physical withdrawal symptoms as a defining characteristic of addiction because it turns out that a drug can be powerfully addictive without causing serious withdrawal sicknesses. Two such drugs much in evidence today are crack cocaine and methamphetamine.

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The Role Of Professional Treatment

Addiction damages numerous parts of the brain, affecting a persons motivation, emotional regulation, mood, and impulse control. Fighting addiction is about far more than willpower. Real recovery requires one to use every tool at their disposal to learn how to recognize and combat cravings, avoid or disempower triggers, and find newer, healthier coping mechanisms and emotional outlets other than substance abuse.

Lasting abstinence from addictive substances can repair damage to the brain. However, it is very difficult to achieve sustained recovery without a plan, the proper tools, a safe environment, and a supportive community. This is why professional addiction treatment centers can be so helpful. Granite Recovery Centers provides a full continuum of drug rehab treatment in New Hampshire implementing a unique blend of 12-step work with proven clinical modalities in its inpatient recovery programs. We will help you or your loved one develop healthy strategies and techniques to fight addiction through therapy, community, stepwork, relapse prevention planning, and numerous forms of active recovery. If you or a loved one is struggling with a drug addiction, please call our admissions specialists or send a message online.

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Is A View Of Addiction As A Brain Disease Deterministic

A common criticism of the notion that addiction is a brain disease is that it is reductionist and in the end therefore deterministic . This is a fundamental misrepresentation. As indicated above, viewing addiction as a brain disease simply states that neurobiology is an undeniable component of addiction. A reason for deterministic interpretations may be that modern neuroscience emphasizes an understanding of proximal causality within research designs . That does not in any way reflect a superordinate assumption that neuroscience will achieve global causality. On the contrary, since we realize that addiction involves interactions between biology, environment and society, ultimate prediction of behavior based on an understanding of neural processes alone is neither expected, nor a goal.

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The Brain Continues To Develop Into Adulthood And Undergoes Dramatic Changes During Adolescence

One of the brain areas still maturing during adolescence is the prefrontal cortexthe part of the brain that allows people to assess situations, make sound decisions, and keep emotions and desires under control. The fact that this critical part of a teens brain is still a work in progress puts them at increased risk for trying drugs or continuing to take them. Introducing drugs during this period of development may cause brain changes that have profound and long-lasting consequences.

Our Brain Learns To Respond To Drugs Of Abuse

How do drugs affect the brain? – Sara Garofalo

Our first decision to use a drug may be triggered by curiosity, circumstances, personality, and stressful life events. This first drug exposure increases the release of a molecule called dopamine, which conveys the feeling of reward. The increased changes in dopamine levels in the brain reward system can lead to further neuroplasticity following repeated exposure to drugs of abuse these neuroplasticity changes are also fundamental characteristics of learning. Experience-dependent learning, including repeated drug use, might increase or decrease the transmission of signals between neurons. Neuroplasticity in the brains reward system following repeated drug use leads to more habitual and more compulsive drug use, where people ignore the negative consequences. Thus, repeated exposure to drugs of abuse creates experience-dependent learning and related brain changes, which can lead to maladaptive patterns of drug use.

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What Is Samhsa’s National Helpline

SAMHSAs National Helpline, , or TTY: is a confidential, free, 24-hour-a-day, 365-day-a-year, information service, in English and Spanish, for individuals and family members facing mental and/or substance use disorders. This service provides referrals to local treatment facilities, support groups, and community-based organizations.

Also visit the online treatment locator, or send your zip code via text message: 435748 to find help near you. Read more about the HELP4U text messaging service.

Addiction And The Dopamine Transporter

Although the details may have been disputed, the central role of dopamine in addiction nevertheless seemed firmly established. And then last May came research that appeared at first glance to contradict the notion that dopamine underlies addiction. The leading hypothesis for how cocaine works in the brain appears to be wrong, said The New York Times. The headline in Nature Neuroscience asked: Hard knocks for the dopamine hypothesis?

Caron points out that pharmacologists have known for a number of years that many psychostimulants are capable of blocking not only the ability of the dopamine transporter to re-uptake dopamine and therefore increase extracellular dopamine concentration, but also the ability of the norepinephrine transporter to re-uptake norepinephrine and the ability of the serotonin transporter to re-uptake serotonin. Previously, the effects on other neurotransmitter systems were not thought to be important because many of the reward mechanisms can be blocked by blocking the dopamine system.

What the study suggests, Caron says, is that addiction does not depend solely on the ability of cocaine to raise the concentration of dopamine. It’s probably much more that cocaine interacts with many other systems, he says, noting the possibility that norepinephrine might also be involved.

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Drugs And The Brain: How Do Drugs Work There

The field of neuropharmacology deals with all different types of substances that are active within the central nervous system. There are hundreds of different drugs belonging to a broad array of classes and all of these substances have their own mechanisms of action within the brain and mediate a truly vast array of effects, for example there are some drugs that cause ed . Below is a brief overview of some of the classes of drugs that are active within the central nervous system:

Areas Of The Brain Affected By Substance Use

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While alcohol and drugs affect the entire brain, some regions are more involved with SUD than others. The National Institute on Drug Abuse explains the effects of drugs on the brain in the article Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction, which focuses on the overstimulation of three key brain areas: the basal ganglia, the extended amygdala, and the pre-frontal cortex.

  • The basal ganglia, associated with the brains reward system, recognizes pleasurable activities such as enjoying a good meal or having fun with friends. When overstimulated by drug use, though, it loses sensitivity to natural neurotransmitters, such as dopamine. With continued drug use, drugs become the only stimulus that activates this reward center.
  • The extended amygdala is associated with negative emotions such as stress, anxiety, and irritability. These are symptoms a person experiences when a substance leaves the bloodstream. To avoid the negative symptoms of withdrawal, individuals often take more drugs, creating a feedback loop.
  • The pre-frontal cortex is the area of the brain that governs decision making, logic, problem-solving, self-control, and impulse control. When this area of the brain is affected by drugs, confusion and poor decisions dominate the cognitive process.

Several drugs, including alcohol, affect the cerebellum. The cerebellum assists with muscle control and coordination, which is why people who have had too many drinks may stumble and weave when they walk.

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We Can Adapt To New Learned Behaviors

Our brains plastic nature suggests that we can change our behaviors throughout our lives by learning new skills and habits. Learning models support that overcoming addiction can be facilitated by adopting new cognitive modifications. Learning models suggest pursing counseling or psychotherapy, including approaches such as cognitive behavioral therapy , which can help a person modify their habits. NIDA suggests that, for some people, medications can help people manage symptoms to a level that helps them pursue recovery via strategies such as counseling and behavioral therapies, including CBT. Many people use a combination approach of medications, behavioral therapies, and support groups to maintain recovery from addition.

Why Do Some People Become Addicted To Drugs While Others Do Not

As with other diseases and disorders, the likelihood of developing an addiction differs from person to person, and no single factor determines whether a person will become addicted to drugs. In general, the more risk factors a person has, the greater the chance that taking drugs will lead to drug use and addiction. Protective factors, on the other hand, reduce a person’s risk. Risk and protective factors may be either environmental or biological.

Risk Factors

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Is Drug Addiction A Brain Disease

The notion that drug addiction is a brain disease has become axiomatic. Around the globe aspiring health professionals treating substance abuse are indoctrinated with this belief, especially after the idea became popular in the 1990s. Its popularity extends far beyond the hallowed halls of academia. Both the May 1997 Time and the September 2017 National Geographic magazines were dedicated to the brain science of addiction. Numerous other popular magazines have run similar cover stories over the past two decades.

But after 20 years of research, one of us saw that paradigm yielding dismal results. Meanwhile, behavioral research on outcomes after providing both animals and humans with attractive alternatives to drugs has yielded positive results regarding effective treatments, despite the lack of mainstream attention. This observation prompted Hart to refocus his research on these behavioral treatments. So in 2016 we teamed up to reexamine the prevailing assumptions supporting the brain-disease model of addiction and the data behind those assumptions. Like many other people in addiction research, coauthor Grifell had not directly questioned this paradigm until teaming up with Hart and digging into the evidence. Brain-imaging data from methamphetamine-addicted users provide the strongest support for the prevailing paradigm but still can be interpreted in other ways.

Brian Hubble

How Does Dopamine Reinforce Drug Use

How Drug Addiction Works

The feeling of pleasure is how a healthy brain identifies and reinforces beneficial behaviors, such as eating, socializing, and sex. Our brains are wired to increase the odds that we will repeat pleasurable activities. The neurotransmitter dopamine is central to this. Whenever the reward circuit is activated by a healthy,

pleasurable experience, a burst of dopamine signals that something important is happening that needs to be remembered. This dopamine signal causes changes in neural connectivity that make it easier to repeat the activity again and again without thinking about it, leading to the formation of habits.

Just as drugs produce intense euphoria, they also produce much larger surges of dopamine, powerfully reinforcing the connection between consumption of the drug, the resulting pleasure, and all the external cues linked to the experience. Large surges of dopamine teach the brain to seek drugs at the expense of other, healthier goals and activities.

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Why Are Some Drugs Addictive: The Pleasure Issue

Drugs are addictive because of the pleasant or euphoric effects that they can induce through their various MOAs. Once these enjoyable effects are experienced, our brains positively reinforce it and release a surge of dopamine which mediates a cascade of events that eventually lead the user to repeat drug use to experience pleasure again. To simplify it even more, a drug causes a pleasurable feeling which is viewed, in the short term, as a positive experience and as such is rewarded by the brain. This pleasure-reward circuit continues until the behavior becomes habitual and beyond the control of an individual user.

The Most Common Drugs of Addiction in the United States Include:

  • Prescription sedatives

However, it is important to keep in mind that there are numerous other drugs of abuse on which users can become physiologically dependent.

Is Addiction A Brain Disease: Who Is At Risk

The question of whether addiction is a brain disease is quite controversial to answer, as opinions regarding it are highly variable. However, from what has been discussed in this article about defining addiction as a chronic illness and about what drugs do to your brain over time, making drug use a habitual, automatic behavior, it is quite clear that addiction is a brain disease and does not stem from a moral weakness, a lack of willpower or an unwillingness to stop.

As with all medical conditions, identifying a single cause or a risk factor is often difficult. Furthermore, it is highly unlikely that a single factor can account for the development of drug addiction in a patient. Rather, predisposition to drug addiction is multifactorial and the risk grows with an increase in the number of these predisposing factors a user will have.

Bellow Are Offered All the Possible Risk Factors which Could Predispose to Drug Addiction:

Co-Occurring Disorders

  • Law and norms about alcohol and drug use
  • Availability of the drug

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A Behavioral Lens On Addiction

Many addiction researchers begin with the assumption that this condition is a brain disease. Yet there are virtually no data in humans indicating that addiction is a brain disease in the way that, for instance, Huntingtons or Parkinsons are brain diseases. The present evidence indicates that this assumption should be reevaluated to formulate a more accurate view of drug addiction. An evidence-informed view would be more inclusive, would emphasize a prominent role for psychosocial and environmental factors, and would focus on offering alternative reinforcersnondrug alternatives that decrease problematic drug-taking. From a practical or clinical perspective, this approach means it is unacceptable to tell substance-use disorder patients that they suffer from a diseased brain. Instead, a comprehensive psychosocial assessment should be employed, and the resulting findings should dictate intervention strategies.

Research has now shown repeatedly that alternative reinforcers can be used effectively to treat substance-use disorders. This kind of treatment is called contingency management. The idea comes from basic behaviorism: Our actions are governed to a large extent by what we are rewarded for in our environment. These cause-and-effect relationships, where a reward is dependent upon the person either doing or not doing a particular behavior, can be used to help change all types of habits.


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