Addiction On The Brain – How The Damage Is Done And How To Undo The Damage


The study of the human brain has made great progress in recent years. In 2015 for example, new discoveries were made in the link between the brain and the immune system, new details were revealed about how the brain changes as we age and new insights were gained into the development of depression and diet, loneliness and even Facebook activity!

A more detailed understanding of the complexities of brain science helps us better understand how drugs and addiction work in the brain, along with the long-term implications of drug abuse and addiction on both the brain and the body. Knowing the effects of drugs and alcohol on the brain can lead to more effective ways of reversing the damage that long term substance abuse causes and effective new treatments and medications to treat addiction & advance our knowledge of the subject.


How Your Brain Works

Your brain is a complex organ that runs everything about you. Your thoughts, memories, and personality traits are all housed in your brain. Your brain manages all of your physical functions — from climbing a mountain to the involuntary beating of your heart and blinking of your eyes. In addition, all of your ideas — both conscious and unconscious, originate in your brain.

The brain works via a series of physical structures that convey messages through special chemicals and electrical activity. In some instances, messages are sent from the body through the nervous system to the brain and back again. When you are walking barefoot and step on a pebble for example, the pain sensation is transmitted to your brain and your brain responds with a message to pick up your foot quickly to avoid more pain and damage to your body.

While your brain is handling pain responses, it’s also keeping your heart beating, regulating your body temperature, managing your breathing, watching out for danger with the “flight or fight” response and thousands more!

Your brain is the ultimate multi-tasker with some very important responsibilities and it manages all of this with a chemical and electrical messaging system.

Your brain uses neurotransmitters to send signals from cell to cell. There are several different types of cells in your brain that have unique functions. Receptors read the messages from the neurotransmitters. There are specialised receptors for each of the different neurotransmitters which fit together like a lock and key.

Information is managed by the type and number of available receptors in the brain and the amount of the corresponding neurotransmitter produced. For a message to connect, the brain has to produce the neurotransmitter in a sufficient quantity, then the chemicals have to meet up with the right receptors. If the receptors are there but happen to be blocked, the message will not get through.

Chemical Structures of Neurotransmitters

There are about 100 different types of neurotransmitters divided into three categories: Small molecule, neuropeptides and others. Once released, a neurotransmitter is available for a short time. If it does not bind to a receptor, it’s either gobbled up by enzymes or taken back into the neuron. A breakdown of communication within the brain can result when these message chemicals are produced but not received.

One of the reasons neurotransmitters might not be received is that all the appropriate receptors are blocked. If a receptor is already engaged, it cannot take on a neurotransmitter. Receptor cells can only connect with their intended neurotransmitters, and only in a one-to-one “monogamous” relationship.

Complex thoughts are handled with a combination of neurotransmitters. By adjusting the variables such as the amount of neurotransmitter produced, number of available receptor cells and possible combinations of neurotransmitters, your brain is capable of processing complex thoughts like emotions, creativity and abstract concepts.

With such great responsibilities, your brain is an extremely complex network of cells and chemicals that we continue to fruitfully study. While a lot of brain science is understood however, there are still several questions to be answered.

Your complex brain is extremely precious to life as we know it and warrants further study by scientists and healthcare professionals, protecting from physical injury/illness or damage from addiction and maintaining through our diet, vitamins and minerals as well as maintaining our mental health through techniques such as mindfulness, meditation, medication (if needed) and from healthcare professionals such as Doctors, Counsellors, Psychologists or Psychiatrists.

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Parts Of Your Brain

For ease of study and classification, the brain is divided into certain regions. Each region has a unique purpose and yet, they all work together harmoniously like one perfect machine!

What Does the Brain Look Like? | Highbrow

Cerebrum

The largest part of the brain, the cerebrum is responsible for most of the work that the brain does. The cerebrum is divided into the left and right hemispheres, each containing the same subdivisions.

Frontal Lobe

The frontal lobe spans the front part of the head and is responsible for behavior, personality, creative thought, intellect, problem-solving, attention, smell, muscle movements, abstract thinking, judgment, physical reactions, and coordinated movements.

Parietal Lobe

The parietal lobe sits directly behind the frontal lobe and is subdivided into the sensory and motor cortexes. The sensory cortex receives information from the body about positioning, touch and pain. The motor cortex monitors and controls movement.

Temporal Lobe

The temporal lobe is located on either side of the head near the temples. The right and left temporal lobes are connected with axons. Language is the primary function of this lobe, in addition to speech and hearing. There is a specialized area within the temporal lobe that’s believed to be important in processing language, but more study is needed to explain specifically how it works.

Occipital Lobe

Vision is handled in the occipital lobe, located at the back of the head. Within the occipital lobe is a small area that specializes in facial expressions and understanding language.

Cerebellum

This is a small region of the brain that handles some very basic functions. The cerebellum is responsible for balance, coordination, and movement. Its functions allow us to hold ourselves up and move in characteristically human ways.

Limbic System

A series of glands, the limbic system is located in the center of the brain. Emotions and hormonal responses come from this part of the brain. The limbic system includes four primary glands: Thalamus, hypothalamus, amygdala, and hippocampus.

Brain Stem

The brain stem, the part of the brain that attaches to the spinal cord, manages basic life support functions. The heart rate, respiration, and blood pressure are all controlled by the brain stem.

There is some overlap in functioning among the regions of the brain. Certain more complex concepts, like language, are handled by coordination between different regions. This overlap in functioning can be good news when brain damage occurs, due to accident or illness. Certain brain functions can be rebuilt when they are lost.


How Drugs Do What They Do

No matter what type of drugs you use (including alcohol), whether they’re pills prescribed by a doctor, an illegal substance you bought on the street, something you bought from your Pharmacy over-the-counter or alcohol, they eventually find their way to your brain. Smoking, swallowing, snorting, drinking, injecting, rubbing or any combination of these will all deliver drugs to your bloodstream, which in turn moves them to your brain.

Since your brain manages all functioning and thoughts, it makes sense that a drug would have to travel to your brain to have any effect. Consider an over-the-counter cough suppressant that relaxes the cough reflex, so you can get some sleep. That reflex is regulated by your brain, so the active ingredient in the cough medicine has to change the messages in your brain to be effective and stop you coughing.

Once in your brain, drugs interfere with your normal brain chemistry to produce the desired effects of the substance. The cough suppressant reduces your cough and also makes you drowsy. Every drug you take has more than one effect on you.

Usually, drugs affect you both mentally and physically. While alcohol reduces your inhibitions, it also depresses (slows/reduces) respiratory (breathing) functions, for example.

Side effects can be the most dangerous part of any drug since you’re not looking for, monitoring or expecting them. Most people tend to focus on the primary function of a drug and try to ignore the side effects even though these most often are the symptoms they feel most rather then the feeling they were hoping to feel once they took the substance.


Your Brain & Behaviour

Your brain controls your behavior in a number of ways. A reflex response for instance, is the result of some quick situational analysis in your central nervous system. Your brain makes you move your hand away from a hot cooker to mitigate the damage of the burn to your skin you would receive if you had burnt your hand while cooking.

Your brain also moves your muscles in response to various other cues, but most of these are simple thought patterns. Your brain adjusts your stride when you walk upstairs or up and down an incline. It finds you a place to sit when you are tired and moves you to bed at the appropriate time in the evening by using these unconscious processes we do so often, we don’t even think about them.

More complex behaviours are grouped together by what Psychologists call “executive behaviours”. They involve using emotional judgement to guide movements. These are the eight executive behaviours governed by your brain and how their deficiency might affect functioning for an otherwise healthy adult:

Task Initiation: Getting Started With An Activity

Without the ability to initiate, people become stuck in their current condition. A deficiency in this area could keep someone from learning a new hobby or starting a new job. For smaller tasks, this can look like extreme procrastination. Addicts can find this a problem by constantly making excuses or reasons why they cannot stop using or get into recovery for example which can then lead to addictions getting worse and carrying on for a lot longer than they otherwise would if they had done what was needed a year ago.

Self-Monitoring: Evaluating Your Progress

Evaluating your progress is essential to maintaining a clear connection with your own reality. A deficiency in this area would mean you were unable to catch your mistakes before someone else pointed them out to you or you have already done things you didn’t really want to or shouldn’t have. This can be a big problem for addicts as they loose track of their progress which can then stagnate or even go backwards!

Organisation: Keeping Track Of Items & Ideas

Some people are naturally more organised than others. A severe deficiency in organisation could make it difficult to carry on a coherent conversation and would result in lot’s of wasted time looking for car keys for example. This can also cause to miss important fellowship meetings or MAT meetings with your Doctor.

Flexible Thinking: Adjusting To Unexpected Circumstances

The inability to accept new information would make it very difficult to learn anything. Once you develop a bad habit, it would also be difficult to change your thinking to change that habit.

Addicts are often very rigid in their thinking with dead-set rituals that they have to do every single day or even multiple times like using or drinking. For example, Addicts often look forward to being paid so that they can do and score or drink, as they do every week for example. However, if they had an unexpected expense come through, they may either not resolve the expense so that they can meet those ritualistic needs or not be able to cope with paying the expense and then not complete their ritualistic behaviour as they would ordinarily do.

Impulse Control: Preceding Actions With Thought

This is a huge problem in addiction. When chemical dependence (addiction) takes hold in your brain, you tend to follow your impulses rather than logic or reason. A lack of impulse control can result in risky behaviours and can become very dangerous over time with unsafe habits and dangerous lifestyle choices being adopted so that they can best serve their addiction.

Working Memory: Holding Onto Important Information

Following a step-by-step procedure is a common ability in most adults. When your working memory is impaired however, doing something as simple as remembering the directions to a friend’s house can be difficult. Without a working memory, there is an increased risk of dangerous and risky behavior. Not remembering basic flammability properties, for example, might lead you to set a burning cigarette down on top of the newspaper or onto the carpet due to substance intoxication or impaired working memory.

Emotional Control: Managing Feelings

If you struggle to control your emotions, you’ll probably overreact in highly charged, emotional situations. You might also act out of those overblown emotions and create unnecessary drama, pain or damage to yourself or others.

Addiction can cause a loss of emotional control because most people under the influence of drugs or alcohol do not feel their emotions or properly process the information their brain is receiving, which would enable them to react to changes in their situation or environment as they occur. When the drugs or alcohol wear off, the emotional pain and damage can be too much to process all at once. An addict will often act out those emotions until he or she can calm themselves down by soothing themselves and their feelings with more drugs or alcohol.

Prioritising: Setting Goals & Making Plans To Meet Them

The inability to prioritise and plan can make life rather chaotic and unpredictable. Not realising what is most important, you may take action on something impulsively, rather than applying your energy to necessary tasks which would better serve them or their situation. In the extreme, this could mean having a couple of drinks rather than being on time to pick your daughter up at school or attending a therapy appointment.

Although it is unclear exactly how the brain manages executive functions, it is possible to detect when the executive function system is not working. People with diagnosed mental disorders like attention deficit disorder (ADD), autism, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or borderline personality disorder (BPD) exhibit signs of impaired or under-developed executive functioning.

Recent studies have linked impaired executive functioning with a higher risk of addiction. Addiction can also erode your executive functioning capacity, making it more difficult to recover from addiction the longer the person is in active addiction. That is one reason among many, why getting clean or sober and entering into recovery at the earliest possible moment is vital!


Your Brain’s Pleasure Centre

Literature on drugs and addiction often mentions the “pleasure centre” of the brain. In fact, pleasure is not perceived in just one area of the brain. There’s actually a reward system in the brain that’s made up of a group of interconnected glands and other structures, including many of the glands responsible for behaviour. The pituitary gland is part of the reward system that circulates the feeling of pleasure throughout the body.

Your brain’s reward system is designed to reinforce positive experiences so you’ll repeat those actions again to receive that positive, rewarding feeling again. It’s like an internal conditioning mechanism that incentives “good deeds” with pleasure and on the opposite, negative experiences with negative or uneasy feelings.


How Different Substance Affect Your Brain

how drugs affect your brain

While all drugs and alcohol work by getting into your brain and interfering with the chemical messaging system, each drug takes a slightly different path. There are a number of different ways a drug can disrupt the natural messaging system in your brain and create the intended “pleasurable” effect.


Depressants

Depressants are meant to have a calming effect and are used to reduce anxiety and induce relaxation. They slow down brain activity to eliminate racing thoughts, quick pulse rate, rapid breathing and agitation or restlessness. Some of the side effects of depressants are:

  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Slurred speech
  • Poor concentration
  • Fever
  • Lack of coordination
  • Depression
  • Headache
  • Tiredness or feeling sleepy

Depressants work with the brain chemical GABA that slows down brain function. By binding to the GABA receptors, depressants increase GABA activity and thereby inhibit nerve transmissions. Depressants slow down brain activity, which affects all of the systems in the body. With the brain working more slowly, vital functions also slow down.


Stimulants

The medical uses for stimulants have changed in recent years. Historically, they were prescribed for a variety of disorders, including respiratory problems such as asthma, several neurological disorders, and even obesity. As the dangers of stimulant abuse and addiction became apparent, the medical uses for the substances were limited to narcolepsy, attention deficit disorder, and depression.

The neurotransmitter associated with stimulants is dopamine, which is involved in pleasure, movement, and attention. When taken as prescribed, stimulants increase dopamine levels in the brain slowly until they reach a level that produces the desired effect. As recreational substances, stimulants raise dopamine levels quickly — much higher and faster than could ever be achieved naturally.

The sudden increase in dopamine, a feel-good brain chemical, produces a euphoric effect and increases the risk of addiction. By interfering with the reward system, large doses of stimulants can create intense cravings. Physical side effects can include:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased body temperature
  • High blood pressure
  • Decreased appetite
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Increased energy levels
  • Sweating
  • Unable to urinate

Opioids & Opiates

Derived from opium or synthesised to mimic certain substances found in opium, opioids & opiates were developed as pain relievers. They block pain by binding to certain receptor cells in the brain and central nervous system. With the opioids occupying the receptors, naturally occurring pain messages cannot get through.

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Opioids send their own signals through those receptors that cause the brain to flood with dopamine, a feel-good chemical. The dopamine taps into the reward system in the brain and accelerates addiction. Meanwhile, breathing is slowed as part of the pain-dulling message. The biggest danger posed by opioid overdose is a cessation of breathing.

Cannabinoids

Cannabis is the active ingredient in the hemp plant used for marijuana. The substance has also been replicated chemically in attempts to synthesise a drug with the same effects. Some people see synthetics as a more controlled, measured way of delivering the desired effects.

Cannabinoids produce a euphoric feeling and enhance sensory perception while creating irregular heartbeat, lack of focus and memory loss. Long believed to be rather harmless, cannabinoids have recently been more thoroughly studied. In the brain, marijuana and any other drug containing this compound kills cells, shrinks neurons and causes DNA fragmentation.

There are at least 85 different compounds that are considered cannabinoids and are naturally occurring in marijuana. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) are the two that producers concentrate on. THC has psychoactive properties, and CBD is believed to calm the nerves and also act as an anti-inflammatory. Commercially grown marijuana plants are designed to produce higher levels of these two compounds.

These drugs interact with the reward system in the brain. They increase dopamine activity, which is how they produce the euphoric feeling. Their actions in the reward system are similar to that of morphine or nicotine — two drugs known to be extremely addictive. Indeed, addiction seems to hinge primarily on the manipulation of dopamine in the reward system of the brain.

Hallucinogens

This class of drug is aptly named because it causes the user to hallucinate, hear sounds or see visions that are not real. Hallucinogens interfere with the brain messaging systems involved in sensory perception and send erroneous signals. They work mostly in the front part of the cerebrum where mood, cognition, and perceptions are processed.

Hallucinogens mimic serotonin, a neurotransmitter used to regulate appetite, digestion, sleep, sexual desire, memory, and mood, in order to bind with certain serotonin receptors. It is still unclear exactly how hallucinogens work, but research continues.

The effects of hallucinogens vary widely. Some users experience pleasant sensations and a deepened sense of understanding, while others have anxiety-ridden visions of terror. Hallucinogens also produce some of these side effects:

  • Sleeplessness
  • Numbness
  • Tremors
  • Increased heart rate
  • Nervousness
  • Increased body temperature
  • High blood pressure
  • Relaxation
  • Paranoia

What Happens When You Take More Than One Drug At A Time?

Polydrug or polypharmacy abuse, i.e. taking more than one substance at a time compounds the dangers and increases the risk of unpleasant or dangerous side effects. Drugs are hard to control to begin with, but once they get into your brain, there are effects and side effects that you might not even be aware of. When you start combining drugs, the complications multiply which can be dangerous and cause long-term damage or even become fatal! For example, mixing alcohol with cocaine creates Cocaethylene, a potentially poisonous and fatal byproduct of taking alcohol and cocaine at the same time.

There’s an 18–25% increased risk of immediate death when alcohol and cocaine are used together, than when cocaine is used alone.

NHS England

Most drugs work on levels in your brain. Consider alcohol and blood alcohol content (BAC). When you drink alcohol, your BAC increases for a period of time. Eventually, the alcohol in your blood moves to your brain or is filtered out by your liver. Without a new supply of alcohol, your brain eventually gets rid of the alcohol and goes back to normal.

People who abuse alcohol tend to maintain a constant BAC, which becomes the new normal for their bodies. Because it is “normal” for them, they don’t realise that there’s alcohol in their bloodstream, even before they have their first drink of the day. When they add another drug on top of the alcohol, they’re in danger of overdosing without even realising it!

Many drugs deliver too much of a good thing when it comes to their interaction with the reward system of the brain. Too much & too much is scary dangerous combination!

All of that pleasure sensation is just going to accelerate the addiction process that much faster. An overload of “feel good” chemicals isn’t going to feel very good when it wears off. The subsequent low after the “high-high” could be deadly.


Effects Of Long-Term Drug & Alcohol Use On The Body & Brain

The human body has a tremendous ability to adapt to changing conditions. All of your vital functions can be measured within certain ranges. In other words, your body always seeks balance. When something becomes too high or too low, adjustments are made to try and return them back to the centre.

Consider then, a drug whose side effects include increased heart rate. When you put this drug in your system, your brain tries to lower your heart rate to make up the difference and maintain your heart within the normal range. The more you use this drug, the more your brain has to compensate. Eventually, you may reach a level of drug abuse where it becomes impossible for your brain to counteract these effects.

But in the meantime, your brain grows some new pathways to continually adjust your heart rate. It gets used to the presence of this drug and takes it as the “new normal”. The new pathways begin to hardwire your brain for maintaining your heart rate within a normal range with this drug included as part of the equation.

When you decide to detox and quit this drug use and other addictions, your brain goes into a spasm called withdrawal. It was used to operating with the drugs and suddenly the drugs are withheld and absent. You may require medical intervention to maintain a reasonable heart rate while your brain readjusts to life without the drugs. It can be done, but it takes time. The more changes that have occurred over time to the hard-wiring of your brain, the longer it takes to grow new pathways to accommodate the new lowered normal.

Introduction to the Neuropsychopharmacology of Drug Addiction -  Preoccupation/Anticipation Stage - Prefrontal Cortex

Heart rate is a good example because it’s vital to life and because most drugs affect it at some sort of level, many long-term drug and alcohol users suffer damage to their heart or other vital organs. Living with an elevated heart rate for a long period of time has the effect of wearing out the muscle. When your heart doesn’t function within normal ranges, oxygen and nutrients do not circulate throughout your body properly and other vital organs cannot work optimally without their basic requirements and necessities.

It’s similar to an engine running without petrol and oil. The engine may still run without enough oil, but it’s sustaining damage that will eventually kill it. The same might be true if you watered down the petrol to make it last longer. The engine might run, but it won’t run well and it will be damaged by the time it quits.

Your brain continues to grow and change throughout your adult life. By adding drugs and alcohol, you force certain changes in your brain that are not natural and can be dangerous. When the drugs add “feel-good” chemicals to your brain, it stops producing them naturally in order to try to maintain a normal balance. Eventually, new pathways grow based on the lack of natural feel-good chemicals.

When negative thoughts become hardwired into your brain, a downward spiral can begin. The brain follows habits just like you do. Through repetition, it can get in a groove so to speak, of negative thoughts. The more it uses those thought pathways, the deeper they become entrenched in your behaviour, thinking and reacting to your environment and overall life. Eventually, it can be very difficult to grow new, more positive thought pathways but it can be done. using techniques and tools such as these link to other articles we have previously released which may help you:

Depression and other mental health conditions are a major problem for long-term drug and alcohol addicts. Since their good moods have been artificially induced for so long, their brains are not prepared to produce pleasure and happiness on their own. The brain can heal and regain its ability for positive thinking, but the longer the drug and alcohol use goes on, the harder and longer it’ll take to recover.

drugs in a brain

How Your Brain Teaches You To Keep Taking Drugs Or Drinking Alcohol

Addiction is a complex concept that scientists continue to study and learn more about on a continual basis. It’s clear that the brain is the central control for addiction and drugs and alcohol create that addiction when they are inserted into these complex messaging systems.

The most damage, in terms of addiction is done in the reward system of the brain. The system is set up to encourage positive behavior. It provides an incentive to repeat actions that are important for survival. Procreation for example, is required for the continuation of our species, so sexual activity is rewarded with heightened pleasure responses. Eating is also necessary for survival, so there are good feelings attached to that activity as well.

The whole idea of the reward system is to provide an incentive for repetition. When you do something good, the brain rewards you with a feeling of pleasure. The pleasure should entice you to repeat that action. If you have a choice between two actions, you are going to repeat the one that gave you the most pleasure.

Drugs hijack this reward system and use it against you. When the drugs or alcohol find their way into the reward system, they cause the brain to be flooded with dopamine or serotonin, two of the feel-good brain chemicals. The pleasure you get from this experience is remarkable because many drugs or alcohol exceed your natural ability to produce feel-good chemicals exponentially.

So your drug/alcohol-taking behavior is rewarded by your brain and it feels good. Even though the thinking part of your brain knows these drugs are harmful to your health and your life. It’s difficult to override the extreme reward coming from your emotional brain. You begin to crave that extreme pleasure again, but nothing else helps you achieve it except the same substances that caused you to feel that way before (drugs and alcohol).


Drug Use & Mental Health Conditions: Confusion In The Brain

10 Early Warning Signs Your Teen is Struggling with Mental Illness -  Mission Harbor Behavioral Health

There is a reciprocal connection between drug/alcohol abuse and mental illness. For some people, mental illness precedes addiction. Self-medicating to escape the symptoms of mental illness in not an uncommon path to addiction. Mental illness often comes with emotional pain and confusion that can be mitigated temporarily with using psychoactive substances such as drugs and alcohol.

Self-medicating is never a good idea however, for a number of reasons. Controlling or overcoming side effects without proper professional medical guidance is very difficult. In most cases, when drug addiction follows mental illness, the mental illness actually becomes worse.

Most mental illnesses have to do with abnormal brain chemistry. There is a lot going on in the brain, and just a small deviation in one or two neurons or neurotransmitters can change brain functioning. Adding drug or alcohol use to the mix, which also changes brain chemistry will just compound the problems for you in the long run, although your brain may not want to you realise that at the time!

Mental illnesses need to be professionally diagnosed and treated. In the presence of addiction, the mental illness cannot be properly assessed until the drugs are removed from the system as they mask and worsen your symptoms and causes the whole issue to become one big blur as Doctors and other healthcare professionals cannot differentiate between the signs and symptoms of your addiction and your mental health condition(s). Brain chemistry is too complicated to diagnose in the presence of brain-altering substances.

Many substances of abuse actually make the addiction happen faster and more completely. By overstimulating the reward system in your brain, drugs create a stronger desire for increased pleasure than any natural occurrence could cause. It is possible to become addicted to any happy experience, but it will take a long time. In the case of drugs and alcohol that flood the brain with dopamine, the addiction comes very quickly because the brain is hardwired to want to repeat pleasant experiences and the high you get from something like cocaine or morphine is exponentially more intense.


Reversing The Damage After Long-Term Use Of Drugs & Alcohol

Healing the damage caused by long-term drug and alcohol addiction is a two-step process. First, the changes in brain structures and chemistry that perpetuate the addiction need to be reversed. As long as the brain is working against recovery, we will be fighting a losing battle. The second step is to restore lost cognitive function.

There is evidence to suggest that, when the brain is flooded with dopamine from drug and alcohol abuse, the dopamine receptors change in response. These structural changes that take place in the brain make it more difficult for the receptors to read naturally produced dopamine, serotonin or any other neurotransmitter as they are being mimicked by the drugs and alcohol. The new receptors are specifically adapted to the compounds in the drugs and don’t recognise their intended brain chemicals anymore.

These changes help increase the tolerance for the drugs and alcohol that compels the user to increase the amount and frequency of their using or drinking. They also strengthen the cravings between doses. Essentially, this is the part of the brain where drug addiction is encouraged by the natural functioning of the brain.

The brain is capable of healing itself given the right conditions. Scientists are working to create therapies that facilitate brain healing. Certainly, ending the exposure to drugs and alcohol is definitely a huge, helpful start. Just like adding the drugs and alcohol caused the brain to change and adapt, by changing the conditions in the brain, we can stimulate a re-adjustment.

The key to this approach of course, is to control cravings so the brain can remain drug and alcohol free. It’s also important to provide medical support until the brain is capable of maintaining all vital functions alone again. During the detox period, the brain goes through a type of shock where it doesn’t know exactly what to do. It cannot continue on its current course, but it does not remember how it worked before the drugs and alcohol.

Scientists have also discovered that the brain is capable of working around any damaged areas. This ability is referred to as “plasticity” and it allows the brain to continue to function even when thought pathways are damaged from cell death. The brain can grow new pathways and move its messages around a different route. The brain actually has tremendous flexibility this way.

Plasticity is like losing your right hand in an accident and learning to write with your left. Since many brain functions are spread out over different areas of the brain, it’s possible to build new language skills for instance, when the original centre of language has been destroyed. Brain cells are also capable of regeneration, so in time the losses can be minimised.

Although the amount of damage to the brain from long-term drug and alcohol abuse can be extensive, the possibilities of healing always exist. The first step of course, is to eliminate the drugs and alcohol by becoming abstinent from the drugs and alcohol. Contacting your nearest drug and alcohol service can help you to become stable on MAT medication, provide you with a professionally overseen detox and provide opportunities to go through a residential rehabilitation process if that is what you may need. Getting help for addiction as soon as possible will minimise the damage and speed the healing time and process. Visit our Help & Support page here to find your nearest drug and alcohol service as well as other charities, organisations and groups that can also aid your recovery to heal and move on to live a happy, prosperous and productive life!

Published by Drink ’n’ Drugs

Providing useful, relevant, up to date information and support for those suffering from active addiction or those who are in recovery.

2 thoughts on “Addiction On The Brain – How The Damage Is Done And How To Undo The Damage

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