How Addiction Changes Brain Chemistry and the Brain’s Ability to Regenerate In Recovery

Posted by admin on February 24, 2017

Addiction can have devastating ramifications on the lives of those addicted, as well as their loved ones.  So often, we focus on how addiction is impacting day-to-day life and relationships, but addiction impacts more than that.  Addiction causes real, visible changes in the human brain.  First, it is important to understand why the brain can become addicted in the first place.  Harvard Health Publications explains how the brain becomes addicted, “Addictive drugs provide a shortcut. Each in its own way sets in motion a biological process that results in flooding the nucleus accumbens with dopamine. The pleasure is not serving survival or reproduction, and evolution has not provided our brains with an easy way to withstand the onslaught. In a person who becomes addicted through repeated use of a drug, overwhelmed receptor cells call for a shutdown. The natural capacity to produce dopamine in the reward system is reduced, while the need persists and the drug seems to be the only way to fulfill it. The brain is losing its access to other, less immediate and powerful sources of reward. Addicts may require constantly higher doses and a quicker passage into the brain. It’s as though the normal machinery of motivation is no longer functioning; they want the drug even when it no longer gives pleasure.”

As addiction persists, the body naturally acclimates to the increased reception of dopamine and the brain begins to reduce dopamine production naturally.  Thus, the addict is no longer able to independently produce enough dopamine and the pleasure center/reward circuit of the brain does not function as it should and the addict struggles to experience pleasure without the addictive substance.  It is for this reason that an addict often cannot experience joy or pleasure without their addiction and becomes depressed.  The addiction slowly, but surely, changes the actual physical appearance and function of the brain.

Fortunately, addicts that seek treatment and recovery can take peace in the fact that the brain is capable of recovery!  Yes, while the physical appearance of an addict’s brain is changes, the brain is capable of healing and regeneration.  Psychology Today elaborates on how the recovering addict can literally heal their brain in recovery, “When we develop a habit, the brain creates a path in itself in support of that habit. As we engage in the habit over and over again, the pathway becomes well-worn or stronger. This is similar to lifting a weight. If you lift a weight over and over, the muscle will get stronger. In many ways, addiction can be explained as a neuroplastic event. The brain gets trained to do a particular behavior – use drugs or alcohol or gambling – eventually to the exclusion of all else.  BUT, in treatment, we can retrain the brain, that is develop a new pathway that supports recovery. With intensive psychotherapy and other holistic interventions, we strengthen the new “recovery” loop within the brain. The brain then learns to enjoy recovery, those things that give us pleasure in our sober lives – family, work, interpersonal interactions. We retrain the brain and thus change our lives.”  If you or someone you know is an addict and is asking the question – “Can I ever feel normal again?” or “Can my brain really heal after addiction to function properly?”  The answer is yes.  By seeking treatment from a qualified professional such as Diebold Behavioral Counseling, you can begin the work of addiction recovery that will aid in the healing of your brain.

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