Brain and Addiction
Addiction and the Brain; Partners in Crime
by Jonathan Huttner
The truth about the cycle of addiction
The brain and addiction... what is the relationship? There has been an ongoing debate for years about where addiction actually originates from. You will find some drug addiction treatment professionals who claim addiction is a lack of willpower, while others insist that addiction is a disease of the brain, complete with signs and symptoms. The truth about addiction, as concluded by the American Medical Association with research-based criteria, is that addiction is most definitely a disease that is chronic in nature not unlike cancer, diabetes or bipolar disorder. Another critical outcome of the research-based study showed that the brain of the individual suffering from drug or alcohol addiction is both chemically and physiologically dissimilar from that of the normal brain. This particular finding supports the theory that the brain and addiction are interconnected. This is critical to understanding addiction, its development and an individual's recovery process.
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The word addiction is best defined as the obsessive thinking and compulsive need for and use of drugs, alcohol, food, sex or anything that is psychologically or physically addicting. Addiction can also be described by the development of tolerance with distinguishable withdrawal symptoms upon discontinuing the use of the particular drug or behavior. In addition to the development of tolerance with regards to addiction, the addict or alcoholic will experience intense physical cravings for the drug accompanied by an emotional obsession to take the drug regardless of the consequences. The process of addiction that leads the individual to experience the compulsive need for drugs regardless of the consequences is directly related to the change in brain chemistry affecting the process of thought.
The Science Behind the Brain and Addiction Relationship
Scientifically-based research on the brain and addiction relationship has demonstrated to us that drugs, alcohol and specific behaviors have a significant impact on the reward center located in the brain. Levels relating to certain neurotransmitters, send messages to the brain. These neurotransmitters include serotonin and dopamine. Chronic use of drugs and alcohol tends to over-stimulate the brain until it must depend upon substances and behaviors to produce the needed chemicals. This chemical dependency is what leads to tolerance and addiction.
Most people believe that drug addiction lies in the additional use of drugs or alcohol when it truly is related to chemical imbalances in the brain and the compulsion to use, regardless of the consequences. In light of all of this scientific research, we still find professionals who adopt the philosophy that addiction is due to a lack of willpower and/or moral imperfections.
Brain Chemistry and Addiction
Most individuals suffering from addiction use drugs or alcohol to feel "good" or to self-medicate physical or emotional pain. Substance use and addictive behaviors stimulate and increase the brain's production and use of REWARD chemicals such as dopamine. Depending on the dose of the drug, the brain accepts neurotransmitters that are significantly more intense than they would experience during the "natural" highs produced by the brain normally. In basic terms, this is why addiction takes place physically and emotionally.
Addiction Alters the Brain
Over time, the continued use of a drug alters the way the brain functions. A person's brain becomes dependent on receiving the substance. These changes in brain chemistry create the addiction and create the tolerance, withdrawal symptoms and cravings. The only "good" part regarding drug addiction is the disease is treatable and recovery is possible.
For help with your addiction, call the addiction helpline now at 877-794-0381. The addiction helpline staff is available 24/7 to assist you in getting help for your addiction. CALL NOW! All calls are confidential.
Learn more by reading all of our drug addiction articles.
Jonathan Huttner is one of the founders of , which has treated over 7,000 people from throughout the United States. Jonathan has been involved in the field of addiction and eating disorder treatment for the last 25 years.