Did you know that more than 21 million Americans suffer from addiction? Addiction is an international disease that countless people suffer from in relation to many substances. If you’re suffering from a chemical dependency, how is this affecting your brain?
Addiction is tricky, but understanding addiction in the brain can help in your recovery. If you’re working toward addiction recovery, we’re here to help. Read on to learn more about chemical dependency and how it occurs in your brain.
Chemical Dependency in the Brain
To begin, how are chemicals transmitted in the brain?
The brain is exceptionally complex, often equated to a computer. But instead of circuits and chips, our brains have billions of neurons that function as networks. These neurons receive and send signals in connection to each other.
Neurons release a neurotransmitter to transmit signals to each other. These signals may be pain responses, emotions, or virtually anything else that we feel.
Additionally, these neurons are in charge of causing your brain to generate different chemicals. For example, dopamine is a chemical the mind will release that helps improve your mood. Dopamine also helps nerve cells send messages to each other and has many other effects.
How Drugs Interact
Drugs interfere with the neurons and their process. Many drugs can help to activate neurons and force them to fire before they naturally would have. For some conditions, this can be a helpful effect.
Clinical depression and similar ailments are often treated with drugs that will help the brain produce serotonin. Dopamine is also a crucial part of this process. Stress and anxiety are often treated similarly as well.
Other drugs may attach to and activate the neurons “manually.” While these brains mimic the brain’s chemicals, they aren’t able to behave the same way as the neurons. Due to this, they lead to abnormal messages crossing your brain.
Some drugs, such as amphetamine and cocaine, will force the neurons to release a massive batch of neurotransmitters. They also may prevent the normal recycling of your brain’s chemicals. They do so by interfering with transporters, which can keep the chemicals in your brain.
Both of these issues will interfere with your brain’s normal communication. Pleasure receptors may be activated for too long or not at all.
Alcohol in the Brain
One of the most common drugs for the average American is alcohol. Studies show that adolescent brains are more vulnerable to alcohol than adult brains. As such, misuse of alcohol in youths can lead to potentially long-lasting changes in the mind.
Alcohol blocks the brain’s communication pathways and will affect the brain’s function. During drinking, the brain areas controlling memory, judgment, balance, and speech are impacted.
Long-term heavy drinking can also alter the neurons in your mind. In essence, they can make the neurons smaller, making it more difficult for them to communicate.
Alcohol addiction in the brain can cause your neurons to fail to fire or communicate. Such issues can lead to anxiety, depression, heightened stress, difficulty thinking, and more.
Alcohol addiction can also lead to more immediate examples of rewiring the brain. For example, alcohol-induced blackouts are common in those that drink too much.
A blackout is a gap in someone’s memory of events that happened while they were intoxicated. These gaps occur when someone drinks enough to block the transfer of memories. It’s not unheard of for these pathways to sustain enough damage to impact memory.
These rewirings of the mind are long-lasting impacts but aren’t always permanent. Understanding the alcohol recovery timeline is crucial to conquering alcoholism or chemical dependency.
Rewiring Pleasure in the Brain
One of the factors of addiction in the brain is the way it rewires our minds for pleasure. Addiction recovery often has to overcome this rewiring in order to reach sobriety.
Dopamine is the primary chemical behind our feeling of pleasure. The chemical is present during eating, sex, socializing, and almost anything else that makes us happy.
Many drugs will provide a surge of this drug usually in the form of intense euphoria. As such, this reinforces the connection in our mind between consuming the drug and the resulting pleasure.
Essentially, these drugs will teach our brains to seek them out. The mind understands that these drugs cause a large amount of dopamine, which our brain knows to produce. The brain will often prioritize dopamine over other goals and tasks.
In many ways, this functions as a learned reflex. Our minds can see cues in our daily life as having a link to the drug. Even if the drug isn’t available, it can trigger a strong craving or desire.
Overcoming Chemical Dependency
The first step to overcoming dependency is to recognize the signs of addiction. Symptoms can vary depending on the drug but generally are similar.
Using more of a drug than necessary over a longer period is one common example. For alcohol and over-the-counter drugs, this is an easier sign. For prescribed drugs, doctors can often limit prescriptions to prevent this from occurring.
The use of a drug in situations where it’s hazardous to do so is also common. Becoming intoxicated while driving, working, or performing complex tasks is a sign of addiction. Continuing use when you’re aware it’s causing you harm is another.
To simplify, any inability to stop using a substance constitutes chemical dependency. You should seek help as soon as you’re able to help control your addiction recovery.
The Road to Recovery
Understanding chemical dependency is critical to overcoming your dependency and having a successful addiction recovery. You should note any signs of addiction and have a clear knowledge of what addiction does to your brain. That way, you’re familiar with the task ahead of you.
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