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addiction's effects on the human brain

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 [1]. 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 [2]. 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.


  • Rj

    Very well written article aboit the signs and simptoms of addiction. I knew someone who was a an addict too, and he manifested the exact same signs. His pupils were large, he lost so much weight and was never hungry, he stole from snyone and eveyrone to buy drugs. It is so bad because it really destroys the persons life and his family’s, and it is a very addictive thing. He could not apquit by himself he had to go to a rehab too, he did a program like the one in Best drug rehab, and honestly it really worked for him and now years later he is clean and works and has a normal social life. Drug hehab ceters are very needed as it is true that the addicts would do anything to get their hands on drugs.

  • Wilber

    These are some scary facts about drug abuse and the amount of people that are struggling with this is staggering. It is really hard to confront that there is this big of a problem in our society with the use of drugs and other addictive substances. It is something that needs to be looked at for what it is and that is an epidemic. This is something that with those numbers probably will affect or has affected every single person in the society at least a little it on a personal level, and this is something that needs to be handled. It is literally like we as a nation are flushing 400 billion dollars down the toilet in terms of lost resources and wasting money on the medical treatment that accompanies this problem. This is one of the reasons why the mission that BDR has is so important is that they are one of the group along with all of the other drug rehab facilities that is working to handle this problem. Another aspect that most drug or substance abuse addicts will tell you is that they did not think that this would happen to them or they felt that they did not have that big of a problem, but in reality what they had was a beast in them that drove them to getting high every single day. I know from a personal experience with alcohol just how addicted you can get to the point where all you think about is the next time that you are going to drink. I also remember that I was slowly watching my life spiral out of control as the situations that I started getting into got weirder and weirder as I continued to use and I also noticed that slowly but surely I was running into more and more of a selection of drugs that I was around. I distinctly remember that there was a point where I was at a party and I walked into a room and there was a pile of cocaine and heroin and I woke up to the fact that I was about to be in a room with enough drugs to charge everyone as a felon. These were my “friends” that had all of this and the were bragging about how messed up they would be and how they would just sit and do nothing for hours and I was like WTH!! I could not believe that I got that point, and after that I walked away. Now I know that I was lucky as I never had to go to rehab, but there were a couple of my friends from that party that did not turn out the best. It is so important to pass this message along and get people the help that they need. I know that there are about a thousand different stories like this, but there are also more of the opposite where people did not wake up to the problem that they had and they ended up in a less than desirable situation as a result. I wish I had known about places like this then, but I hope that they keep up the good work.

  • Wallace MacCormack

    From all of the research that I have done on the subject of addiction I can see that a lot of what is said in this article is true. There is definitely a dependence that a drug or an alcohol create in the body of a person. What I have seen is that the drug or chemical will begin to be incorporated into the body function of the person and at this point is when the “addiction” begins. What is actually happening from what I have seen is that the body begins to operate off of the drug much like it would a vitamin or a mineral. This is where the person will run into the cravings to have the drugs, as when the alcohol or drug is fully metabolized there will be a need for the body to replace the drugs and then the person will have to use again. There is really no safe drug. Sure there are people who do not have a problem with using caffeine but if you had them come off of it, then they would begin to complain of headaches or body aches, and whether it is caffeine, nicotine, or meth, this reaction is the same. I have seen this in myself with coffee, yet when I was replacing coffee with juiced vegetables, there was a marked increase in the way that I felt and my energy levels, as the juiced veggies were cleaner and did not have the same result. I also did find myself no longer wanting to drink things with caffeine and then I felt and slept a lot better. This is one of the reasons why it is so important to fight drug or alcohol dependence with a well balanced diet and proper nutrition. There is a lot that has been said about this and it is what I have found to be true. There is an x factor that does go into place in terms of the willpower of the individual as well as the habit patterns of the person and getting them to see that they need to get off of the drugs based off of their own decision, but if you couple that drive with the diet, you will see them come off of the drugs. I have helped people with this, and while I am not a pro, I did find there was a lot of success. Another big factor is to change the routine of the person and make it to where they are not in the elements that drove them to the substances in the first place. It is easy to say that anyone can come off of drugs, but this is not always the case, or while it may be possible for every single person out there to come off of drugs, it is not necessarily the decision of everyone to come off of them. They need to decide and then use the information in this article to fight the cravings of the drugs. I hope that my 2 cents has been helpful and I will keep following your blog as I have found it very helpful as far as information goes.

  • carcol

    Wow, it’s really great to hear about the effects of drugs on the human brain from some of the people who have actually gone through it. You can hear from doctors and other medical people about how this works but to actually hear about it from people who have lived it really makes it even more scary. I think this should be available to anyone who is working with someone on getting them through a rehab program and also for parents who are talking to their kids about staying away from drugs. I think it has more impact from someone who has been there than from someone who hasn’t.

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