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Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction – Part 2

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

When you consider the sheer breadth of function that the brain controls, you may begin to comprehend the severity of anything that has the power to change it in any fundamental way.

Furthermore, this should give you some idea of the sheer power and seriousness of drug addiction, which works as a disease of the brain, altering its communication and processes and causing compulsive behavior for which addiction is famous.

How do drugs change the brain?

The brain is an organ which controls functions by communicating with itself. Different parts control different functions and the brain uses chemicals to send messages that coordinate behavior.

Drugs interfere with these processes by imitating these natural messengers and triggering responses accordingly. As a result, responses that shouldn’t be triggered are, as the drugs succeed in fooling the brain’s receptors by masquerading as natural messengers.

Some drugs also work by triggering the release of excessive quantities of neurotransmitters, which can complicate the brain’s communications with itself.

The importance of reward

Drug addicts often describe their experience with drug use as an attempt to chase pleasure. This is because most, if not all, drugs aim to directly target the brain’s reward center. When the center is triggered, it results in the release of dopamine, and other chemicals, which in turn result in the distinct feeling of pleasure.

Drugs over stimulate the reward center and reward the user with feelings of intense pleasure or euphoria.

Since we have adapted to seek reward-giving behaviors, this overstimulation conditions the addict to continue seeking the drug in pursuit of reward. Eventually, this pursuit becomes compulsive and it is at this point that a person can be considered an addict.

How does the brain adapt?

Of course, if this were the end of addiction, treatment would be, although still challenging, relatively simple.

Because we are adaptive creatures, however, the brain has developed ways of dealing with imbalances so, as a drug user continues to abuse drugs, the brain will deal with the influx of dopamine by adjusting the number of dopamine receptors available to the user.

As a result, the quantity of drugs used to incite a specific pleasurable response will have to increase relative to the reduction in dopamine receptors. In the simplest terms, this means the addict will develop a tolerance, and have to use more of a particular drug in order to trigger a response that would have been triggered by a smaller quantity earlier on.

If you’d like to learn more about the science of drug addiction, and you live in the Hamilton, St. Catharines, or Brantford, Ontario, you can make the first step by contacting Towards Recovery on 519-579-0589 to locate your nearest clinic and kick start your journey.

Make sure you have an unexpired OHIP card or call 1-866-532-3161 to find out how to get one.

Towards Recovery Clinics Inc. (TRC) is an Ontario addiction treatment centre with the philosophy to help individuals take control of their addiction and help them rebuild their lives and careers.

Don’t hesitate to call us! We’ll be happy to help you.

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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