Many addicts and their families know intuitively that drugs have a profound effect on the brain. But just exactly how do drugs and drug addiction damage the brain? Drugs can make profound, and sometimes irreversible, changes to the brain chemistry and neural pathways.
If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, the earlier you seek treatment, the better your chances of reversing the effects of the drugs or alcohol.
What Does Addiction Do To Your Brain?
Once a chemical enters the brain, it begins to alter a person’s behavior and physical abilities. Many of the chemical compounds in opiates, nicotine, stimulants, sedatives, and alcohol act on the brain’s reward system, producing feelings of relaxation, euphoria, or happiness. Over time, the brain becomes accustomed to receiving the stimulation and triggers cravings for the user’s drug of choice. Long-term drug or alcohol use can actually render the brain incapable of producing its own reward hormones, serotonin and dopamine.
Once a person becomes addicted to a particular substance, they may feel physical symptoms throughout their nervous system, both during use and during withdrawal, when they aren’t receiving a consistent dose of the drug or alcohol. Typical impacts of the substance on the nervous system include:
- Rapid heartbeat or arrhythmia
- Paranoia or suspicion of other people’s motives
- Nausea or loss of appetite
- Hallucinations, both visual and auditory
- Numbness in fingers and toes
At this point, the individual seeks the drug not just for the rewards it brings the brain but also to curb or mitigate these symptoms. Without professional intervention and treatment, the brain can e permanently altered.
How Do Addictions Develop in the Brain?
The brain is the control center of your entire body, including physical sensations, cravings, habits, and compulsions. When under the influence of the powerful chemicals in drugs, the brain’s natural function is altered, and it depends on the substances for balance and functionality.
Drugs affect the limbic system in the brain, which is responsible for releasing “feel good” hormones. These naturally occur after intense exercise, when you have a good interaction with another person, or when you’ve accomplished a difficult task. When people use drugs, chemicals flood the brain with the same feeling as natural hormones, giving the user an intensely pleasurable sensation. Over time, the brain craves the pleasure it associates with the drug.
What Happens To the Brain in Drug Withdrawl?
When a user becomes chemically dependent on their drug of choice, it can be powerfully hard to break the addiction. Detox may take just a few days or a week, but the brain takes longer to heal and even longer to start producing the “feel good” hormones on its own again. The psychological aspect of sobriety is often harder for people than physical withdrawal.
When people suddenly stop using drugs, they may feel anxiety, depression, or hollowness. Since the brain has become used to an artificial supply of pleasure chemicals, it’s not producing them on its own, and therefore people may turn back to drugs just to feel happy or normal again.
However, the good news is that the brain can heal. Over time, and with prolonged sobriety, your brain will begin producing its own chemical reward, significantly improving your life and reducing your chances of relapse.
Are You Struggling With Drug Addiction?
If you or someone you love is abusing drugs or alcohol, we can help. Hickory Treatment Centers offers professional, holistic addiction therapy and aftercare support. Contact us today for a confidential assessment and to discuss your treatment options.