Recovery Science – Addiction’s Effects on the Human Brain
Combating the national epidemic of addiction means asking tough questions to find the right answers. It is no secret that our society is facing a major problem that has grown to epidemic proportions over the past few decades. It is one that many have tried to ignore, sweeping it under the rug and acting as if nothing is wrong, turning a blind eye to it and hoping it will work itself out or simply just go away. But this is not something we can be blind to. Addiction is ravaging every corner of our nation, from the most rural communities to the largest metropolitan areas, and without action, it isn’t going anywhere.
The National Institute of Health (NIH) reports that drug and alcohol abuse costs our nation around $400 billion annually – this cost includes legal fees, healthcare, and lost productivity . The NIH also states that, of the 23.5 million Americans that had a substance abuse disorder in 2009, only 11.2% received effective treatment at a specialized recovery center . This leaves almost 90% of 23.5 million Americans struggling to regain control over their lives, a staggering number to say the very least.
Many Questions with No Easy Answers
How did we get here? How did we let it get this far? Are drugs and alcohol really that addictive? There are no easy answers for any of those questions. Perhaps our national drug policy, which incarcerates people for drug or alcohol-related offenses rather than viewing the problem as a public health issue, has played a role in it. It is also possible that our own denial of a problem – the “it’s not really a problem for me, not like those other guys” mindset – has been a factor in this problem. The socially accepted nature of alcohol consumption creates an additional problem, making it easier for someone to hide his or her dependence since alcohol is legal. There certainly are plenty of factors involved.
But what is it about addiction that makes it such a difficult thing to beat? If it is simply a matter of “willpower,” why are millions of Americans still struggling with it? Are drugs and alcohol really that addictive?
The answer is “yes and no.” In recovery from addiction, willpower absolutely does play a part in it, but we do not realize true recovery through our willpower alone. Especially for those just starting out on the path to overcoming their compulsive behaviors, willpower just isn’t going to cut it. The majority will be using again within days, or even hours. This is to be expected, particularly when the individual is trying to quit on his or her own, with no help from a professional recovery center like Best Drug Rehabilitation or even support from a recovery group.
Effects of Addiction on the Human Brain
Why is the hold that addiction to drugs and alcohol has over people so strong? Part of it has to do with the effects of drugs and alcohol on the human brain. Due to certain chemical processes that occur when someone drinks alcohol or uses drugs, these effects are seen even with those substances that are considered “non-addictive.”
Gina is a member of the Best Drug Rehabilitation nursing staff. Throughout her career in the medical field, she has seen all forms of addiction, and in varying degrees of severity. She understands the physical processes of using drugs, and explained to us how addiction takes hold. “It releases dopamine,” she says. Dopamine is an organic chemical that is produced naturally in the brain. It is a major factor in “reward-motivated behaviors” – basically, when something makes us feel good, like eating, laughter, music, or exercise, it is because the brain released a small amount of dopamine to train us to repeat that action or activity.
Using drugs or alcohol releases huge amounts of dopamine into the brain, depleting the natural stock of the chemical. “There’s something called a ‘tolerance,” Gina continued. “Next time as they’re taking the same drug, they’re not going to get that same rush, and people are constantly going after and chasing that. Every time they use it, their body gets more tolerant so they have to use more.” This can cause the individual to become dependent on the drug to release dopamine. Here is where addiction begins to take hold.
Best Drug Rehabilitation Patients Explain It Best
“To be addicted to a substance,” says Ben M., a patient at Best Drug Rehabilitation, “you’re a slave, you know? You’ll put yourself in places that you swore you would never be; you’ll do things you swore you would never do; you’ll hurt people you wished you’d never hurt or never wanted to hurt.” Addiction does things to a person’s mind, and their thought processes become centered on only one thing – satisfying the urge to use. “I have a daughter and it wasn’t enough to stop me from still going out there and getting high,” Ben continued. “It’s one of the worst feelings in the world, waking up every day and just knowing that, you know, your mission is to just get high every day.”
Addiction has torn apart countless families, damaged friendships beyond repair, and has left many people feeling isolated and alone. This disconnectedness is another spoke in the wheel, spinning back around to using drugs or drinking to “escape” those lonely feelings, which of course only causes them to return. “It’s something you can’t control,” says Kathryn M., another BDR patient. “I mean you can control it once you see that you do have a problem. You’re ruining your entire life when you’re feeding your addiction, and it really is something that alters you – mind, body, and spirit. And I think a lot of people don’t understand that – that it’s affecting you in every single way.”
Despite the pain, heartache, anger, loneliness, and suffering caused by substance abuse, people struggling with addiction are rarely able to stop using without great effort and an effective recovery program. They see the damage that they are causing to their lives and to the people that they love, yet they are powerless over their behaviors. “Addiction can cause people to do things that they may normally never do,” Gina added. “People will turn to crimes. They will turn to anger. They will turn to stealing. They turn to treating their loved ones with no respect. They become master manipulators. It’s not that that’s what the person wants, it’s that that’s what the drug is forcing them to do.”
Addiction Treatment at Best Drug Rehabilitation
The treatment program at Best Drug Rehabilitation is designed to tackle addiction at its root. Through our thorough and effective recovery strategy, which is tailored to fit the individual needs of each patient, we help the patient to focus on the underlying causes of their addictions. When they understand the “why” behind their substance abuse, they can begin to work on the “how” of leading a clean and sober lifestyle. They discover the tools that will help them handle the stress that daily life places on them without resorting to drugs and drinking. They discover that, no matter how bad things might have seemed at one point, no matter how helpless and hopeless they may have once felt, there is still an opportunity to turn their lives around and work towards living a happier and more positive life with a sense of purpose and hope for the future.