The Biology Behind Addiction

It is a common misconception that people become addicted to drugs by choice — but it is much more complicated than that. It is actually a brain disease caused by dependence on the chemicals that are released during drug use, and users cannot simply decide whether they’ll become addicted or not.

The Effects Drugs Have on Your Brain

Your brain relies on neurotransmitters to communicate signals from one nerve cell to another. They’re necessary because nerve cells don’t touch—they have gaps between them. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that conduct nerve signals across these gaps, allowing your brain to control your body and have thoughts and memories. Your brain is normally pretty good at deciding which chemicals are needed and how much to release, but drugs can interrupt this natural process and create issues.

Some drugs, such as marijuana and heroin, have the ability to imitate neurotransmitters. They stimulate nerve cells and cause them to send abnormal messages that produce strange thoughts, feelings, and actions, prompting the user to feel “high.”

Other drugs, such as cocaine and methamphetamine, can order the release of abnormally large amounts of certain neurotransmitters. These drugs usually prompt the rapid release of dopamine, a common feel-good neurotransmitter, which stimulates the brain’s reward and pleasure centers.

How it Will Affect Your Life

Your brain’s reward and pleasure centers are normally stimulated by natural behaviors linked to survival, such as eating, interacting with other people, and exercising. Taking drugs causes the release of a dopamine overload, resulting in brief yet extreme pleasure and euphoria. After the effects are gone, your body will start to crave more dopamine. With continued drug use, your brain will adapt by either producing less dopamine or responding less intensely, a process called tolerance. Your brain will require more and more of the drug to achieve the same level of stimulation to the reward and pleasure centers, resulting in addiction.

This dopamine craving not only affects the amount of drugs needed to feel pleasure, but also the way the rest of your life makes you feel. The normal activities that used to make you happy will no longer have the same effect, because your body is demanding more dopamine than these activities can produce. This causes people to turn away from the actions and people they used to enjoy, and rely more heavily on drugs to feel happy. This can lead to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.

Long-term drug abuse can also affect more than just your reward and pleasure centers. It will start to break down neurotransmitters used by the brain to influence learning and memory, judgment, decision making, and behavior control. This can cause users to act compulsively and uncontrollably. They will often do anything it takes, no matter how dangerous or illegal, to get more drugs because their brain has forgotten the difference between right and wrong.

How Drug Addiction is Treated

Treating drug addiction is a multi-faceted process that requires more than simply stopping drug use. Every client is different and requires a different combination of treatments in order to help reset the brain’s chemical systems. Possible treatment plans include, but are not limited to:

  • Detoxification
  • Behavioral counseling
  • Medication
  • Evaluation and treatment for co-occurring mental health issues
  • Long-term follow-up to prevent relapse

Successful treatment will help you stop using drugs, stay drug-free, and reintroduce you as a productive member of your family, the workforce, and society. Staying in treatment as long as needed is vital to effective recovery. Trinity offers outpatient addiction treatment services in Dillon, Marion and Marlboro counties. In cases where a client needs inpatient or detoxification treatment, he or she will be referred out to another facility.

If you or a loved one are suffering from drug addiction and seek treatment, contact Trinity at the following numbers based on the county they are in:

  • Marion County: (843) 423-8292
  • Marlboro County: (843) 479-5683
  • Dillon County: (843) 774-6591


The Biology Behind AddictionPhillip Trammel

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