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Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction – Part 1

Posted on :  July 31st, 2014  |  By :  towardsrecovery

For anyone experiencing drug addiction, whether first hand or in relation to a loved one, learning about its causes, effects and treatment can prove therapeutic and offer insight that can aid the recovery process and debunk a few myths about it. With that in mind, here’s a little fact sheet to run you through the basic ins and outs of drug addiction.

Is it a disease?

You’ll often hear people involved in treating drug addicts referring to it as a ‘disease.’ While this may seem odd, in actual fact, drug addiction bears so many resemblances to other physical and debilitating diseases that talking about it in this way is only natural. Drug addiction has the power to completely transform the structure and function of the brain and how it communicates with other parts of itself, so as a result, addiction is often considered a disease of the brain.

Some people object to this claim with the argument that initial abuse is voluntary, and while this often is the case (though sometimes it is not) drug addiction reverses the direction of control, placing it well within the grasp of the addiction, and not of the addict. It does so by interfering with the brain’s natural chemical messengers and triggering the brain’s reward system. After time, the brain’s reward system develops a kind of overstimulation-triggered tolerance, which means that the addict needs proportionally more exposure to a substance in order to generate the same responses as smaller amounts had previously generated. Furthermore, much like in the case of other diseases, an individual can be born with a biological predisposition to addiction, so addiction does not translate to a lack of willpower.

What happens if an addict continues to use?

We’ve already highlighted the ways in which drugs interfere with the brain, but how does this change over time?

  • The brain adjusts: As already mentioned, tolerance is a direct result of drug use. This is because the brain is able to recognize abnormal dopamine release and will reduce the availability of dopamine receptors accordingly.
  • Cognitive function impairment: Drug abuse affects other areas of the brain too, and these changes can in turn affect an addict’s ability to make judgments and learn.
  • Conditioning: Addicts can find themselves subject to non-conscious memory systems, whereby seemingly unconnected environmental cues can trigger uncontrollable cravings for a drug, leaving the addict powerless to the addiction.

Continue to Part 2 If you’d like to learn more about your options, contact Towards Recovery on 519-579-0589.

Who We Serve ?

  • Individuals using/abusing street narcotics (e.g. heroin).
  • Patients abusing prescription narcotics(i.e., Codeine, Talwin, Percocet/Percodan, Dilaudid, Morphine or Demerol, et cetera).
  • Individuals displaying any of the following behaviours: Compulsive drug use or drug seeking/craving.
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