how does addiction affect the brain

A Cognitive Decline: How Does Addiction Affect The Brain?

How does addiction affect the brain? Whether we’ve seen the effects of drugs firsthand or simply want to understand how it all works, The question has certainly hit our minds more than once. 

Addiction is a subject that’s still being heavily studied, but over the years a lot of ground has been covered and we’ve been able to understand this disease much better – including how it alters the state of our mental health.

With drug and alcohol use on the rise and with so many cases of addiction being recorded, knowing the correlation between addiction and the brain is an absolute must. This article goes in depth with everything you need to know.

How Does Addiction Affect the Brain? Here’s What You Should Know

Addiction can affect the brain on a number of levels. Here’s what it could do to you and to the ones you love.

It Will Overwork Your Reward Systems

The mental end goal of addiction is to hardwire your brain to have a complete and total dependency on the drug, even if it causes you negative consequences.

The first step is for the brain to give you an award. Yes, it sounds weird to think that doing drugs makes you deserving of an award, but that’s exactly what the brain will believe, and here’s why.

Whenever we naturally do something that is worthy of positive reinforcement, such as getting first place at a piano recital, your brain releases natural chemicals that give you a feeling of euphoria after your big win.

When you take in drugs or alcohol, your brain works in much the same manner, except the consequences are much more dangerous.

When you take in drugs or alcohol, the brain associates the act itself with the feeling of being rewarded. As time goes on, the brain slowly becomes more attached to the drugs because it wants to continue to have that euphoric feeling.

Pretty soon, the only thing that can trigger the rewards system in your body is are the drugs themselves.

You Feel an Increase in Stress

Not only can drugs affect your brains award system, but they can also mess with your stress levels.

When your body is going through a stressful situation, your brain’s neurons fire off to respond to the situation and take care of it in the best manner possible. This action is tampered with when drugs come into play.

Constant use of drugs and alcohol could cause one to rely on them in a stressful event. This behavior is created when you take to the drugs or alcohol in order to calm yourself when you’re stressed, or to temporarily forget the stressful event.

The more you take to drugs or alcohol when stress occurs, the more you’ll need to turn to them in your next stressful situation, so each new event encourages you to take in more of the drug to compensate.

Furthermore, the effect of stress becomes greater as you become more addicted, so even factors that should cause a minimal amount of stress can feel extreme to an abuser – which in turn only makes them take more of the drug.

Your Brain’s Ability to Maintain Homeostasis Is Affected

Every human has the innate ability to maintain a peaceful balance within their body. This is caused by something called homeostasis. This natural ability helps to regulate our system and keeps us healthy.

Our brain is the one that is at the core of this operation. It can keep tabs on all aspects of the body and makes sure that we’re okay.

When drugs affect the brain, however, it becomes a much different story.

When the brain is under addiction, it will eventually be overstimulated by the effects. This overstimulation forces the brain to adapt to the change, and it compensates by using drugs or alcohol to feel in the void.

The change in homeostasis and the introduction of harmful drugs also throws off the brain’s ability to keep a proper balance, which in turn will make it harder for your body to function as is should.

You’ll Feel Higher Levels of Depression

Depression is a struggle for a wide number of patients. It’s already hard enough to tackle without any drugs involved, but as with most cases, addiction will only make it worse.

Depression is a response to a situation caused by your brain. When you’re feeling deeply upset about an event, usually for an extended period of time, your brain causes you to be depressed.

When you become addicted to drugs or alcohol, your brain begins to use them to alleviate the feeling of depression. The temporary feel-good effects of the drugs make the brain believe its situation has been solved.

The problem, of course, is that these effects are not healthy, and they certainly are not permanent. The brain will come to realize this as soon as the effects have worn off, and it will be in a desperate need to want even more.

As you continue to take the drug, you will desire to ingest more of it with each hit. Whenever you aren’t drunk or high, your brain will feel empty and more depressed, needing the drug to dull the pangs of depression.

In such a case, it becomes a repeating circle: your brain takes more drugs to block the depression, but when they wear off you’re left with a greater depression than before, which you respond to by feeding your brain more drugs.

If an intervention is not had, you will end up either overdosing from drug abuse or taking your life through depression.

We’re Here to Help

You know how does addiction affect the brain. Now you need to know where you can go to get the help you or your loved one needs to fight against the disease. The Discovery House wants you to know that you’re not alone.

We’ve helped numerous patients who have gone through addiction to battle the disease and overcome the odds. We specialize in drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs, as well as a number of general treatment programs.

Give us a call whenever you’re ready to let us lend a hand. We look forward to helping you or your loved one on the road to recovery.

About the Reviewer: Chris Barnes

Chris BarnesChristopher Barnes has worked in health care for over thirty years. He is a graduate of Alabama State University where he earned a double Bachelor of Science Degree in Social Work and Psychology in 1982. Christopher Barnes is currently the Director of Clinical services at The Discovery House where he has been employed for the past five years. Because of his extensive experience in health care & substance abuse he has an excellent rapport with constituents, clients, and other professional organizations in the counseling/social service community.