What Causes Drug and Alcohol Addiction?

The function of the human brain is complex, to say the least, and there’s still much we don’t understand. That said, great inroads have been made in the field of substance use disorders and addiction and we now better understand the effects that drugs and alcohol can have on your brain.

At HealthFirst, Dr. Jonathan Singer specializes in addiction medicine (addictionology). He understands how the brain is affected and, more importantly, how to break free from addiction.

Here, we explore what happens to your brain when you become addicted and the steps we can take to undo the mental prison that comes with a substance use disorder.

The road to addiction

Everyone’s path to addiction is different and there are countless reasons why people develop a substance use disorder. There are some drivers that are more common in those who develop an addiction, including:

Rather than discussing the road to addiction, we feel it’s more useful to understand what occurs in your brain when one takes hold.

Addiction: Hijacking your brain

There are two sides of a substance use disorder: physical dependence and addiction. Dependence refers to the reliance your body has on your drug of choice, which leads to withdrawal symptoms when you stop using. Addiction, on the other hand, refers to what happens in your brain to cause those uncontrollable cravings and the inability to quit.

Under normal circumstances, your brain is driven by reward centers — when you experience something pleasurable, your brain releases dopamine, which calms you and makes you happy. Drugs and alcohol are shortcuts to your pleasure centers, as they release 2-10 times the amount of dopamine as your brain does — in very little time.

As you continue to use, your brain relies on this false pleasure and makes far less of its own dopamine. Making matters more complicated, you begin to build a tolerance toward the effects of the substance, which leads you to use increasingly more in order to garner the same effect.

In short, addiction hijacks your brain as it seeks to stimulate increasingly unresponsive reward centers, which causes you to rely on your drug of choice.

Breaking free from addiction

When you first embark on kicking a substance use disorder, you go through a detox, which is when you address the dependence side of the equation. In most cases, you can break free physically from drugs or alcohol within days or weeks.

The longer-term problem is encouraging your brain to rewire itself so that your natural reward centers function properly again and you don’t have to turn to an outside substance.

You’ll also likely need to address any underlying problems that may have led to your addiction, such as a co-occuring mental health issue.

If you’re addicted to opioids, we offer Suboxone® therapy, which goes a long way toward tempering your cravings. We also offer help for depression and anxiety that you may encounter on your road to recovery with IASIS MicroCurrent Neurofeedback, a treatment in which we rebalance your brainwave patterns.

Rest assured, we’re with you every step of the way, providing the resources you need to finally break free of your addiction. To take charge of your life (and brain) again, contact one of our two locations in Greenwood Village, Colorado, or Cheyenne, Wyoming, by phone or online to set up a consultation today. 

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