The Brain and Addiction
Did you know that addiction is a disease? That’s right. Years of scientific research shows that addiction is a disease that affects the brain and people’s behavior. Substance abuse, and this includes everything from nicotine and tobacco products, to alcohol, illicit drugs and opioids, causes changes to occur in the brain rather quickly. These substances change the chemical make-up of the brain, how it works, and how it responds to impulses and stimuli.
At first, people take drugs because they want to feel good. But soon, due to the chemical changes that occur in the brain when these substances are taken, the body soon needs these drugs to feel good. Everyday activities that once made a person happy are no longer enjoyable, and a drug user starts to need their drug of choice just to feel like themselves. The brain tells the individual to take more of the drug to feel good, or normal, and so begins the spiraling cycle of addiction.
How Narcotic Drugs Alter the Brain
The human brain is the most complex organ in the body. It’s what makes you, you. It’s responsible for every vital bodily function as well as your personality, your sense of humor, reasoning, emotion, creativity, and choices.
Narcotic drugs alter, or even damage, the vital structures of the brain that are necessary for controlling these functions and keeping every bodily system in sync. Substances like opioids and alcohol affect the way the brain communicates and sends and receives signals throughout the body. But perhaps one of the main factors in addiction is how the brain’s reward system responds to narcotics – initially with great pleasure. Most narcotics flood the system with dopamine, which induces a euphoric effect that users want to repeat time and time again. But after the initial rush of euphoria or "high," the brain’s receptors experience a rapid decline in pleasure, taking many drug users back down, sometimes lower than they ever felt before. The brain sends signals that make the user want more of that pleasurable high, reinforcing the drug use, and abuse, and leading to the tell-tale compulsive behavior that marks substance addiction.
Addiction is a Disease
The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse has a great video that shows just how addiction affects the brain of people of all ages. Watch here.