Since the 1990s, the number of deaths from drug overdose has tripled. Now, around 21 million people in the U.S. are addicted to different substances, which means millions of people are now at risk of a drug overdose. These numbers have baffled us all so we decided to research how addiction affects the brain and how understanding this, can help you and your loved ones recovery from it.
Whether it is a problem with Cocaine, Opioids like Heroin, alcohol, or different substances, these addictions will have a huge impact on someone’s life. They will affect the brain and destroy friendships, marriages, careers, even threaten their safety and health.
But how does addiction actually affect the brain? Why is it harmful, and how does the body react to it. Here, we will take a look at the different ways addiction can influence the human system and how it impacts a person’s life.
The Powerful Influencing effects of Addiction
Addiction influences the brain on various levels. Every substance has different compounds, and the way they affect the brain depends on the chemical compounds in these substances like sedatives, alcohol, opioids, or nicotine.
The moment these compounds enter the system, they will penetrate the bloodstream and get transported all the way to the brain. Addiction has a long and strong influence on the brain that is recognizable in three different ways:
- Insatiable cravings for substances
- Abuse of substances
- Continuing to use the substances despite the side effects
When a person becomes addicted, the moment they satisfy their cravings, they view the substances as a form of reward. They will then abuse these substances and keep using them despite experiencing numerous adverse effects that affect their bodies on a physical and mental level
How Does Addiction Develop?
Our brain is in charge of various functions; it regulates our emotions, breathing, temperature, coordination, and decision-making. It’s in control of all our physical sensations such as habits, compulsions, cravings, and more.
When under the influence of heroin or cocaine, all of these functions are altered, which means the chemicals have interacted with the limbic system and gave the user positive feelings of pleasure and motivation.
To support these good feelings, users will keep taking these chemicals, thus resulting in a vicious cycle of drug use.
This behavior also can lead to other diseases such as HIV. That is we we advocate highly for Harm Reduction.
How Does Addiction Affect the Brain?
Addictive substances create intense stimulations in our brain, which makes us crave these substances after use. Upon consumption, the brain unlocks strange behaviors and euphoric feelings. This is a psychoactive impact that motivates the user and gives them pleasure, that in the end, turns into a very powerful desire.
Furthermore, chemical compounds such as these put a strain on the entire nervous system by causing:
- Increased heartbeat
- Lack of control
The body will then develop a need for these substances, and this feeling will eventually turn into a habit. This effect can be magnified even more-so when underlying mental health issues are apparent. This is otherwise known as Dual Diagnosis or Co-occurring Disorders.
Which Parts of the Brain are affected by Addiction?
There are crucial areas of our brain that need to work properly to sustain important functions, but once these areas are under the influence of an addictive chemical, they have the potential to hinder life-sustaining operations.
Certain drugs can affect multiple areas of the brain and will hinder the user’s most basic functions like breathing, heart rate, and sleep. That’s why overdose can be deadly. These are the areas of the brain that are influenced by addition.
1. The Prefrontal Cortex
This area of the brain is responsible for helping us make decisions, solve problems, plan, think, and be in charge of our own impulses. This is that part of the brain that matures last, which is an incredible problem for teenagers since it makes them vulnerable.
When under the influence of addictive substances, all the balance in this area shifts between the reward circuit and stress circuit, which reduces impulse control and affects all the functions this area is responsible for.
2. The Extended Amygdala
This part of the brain is responsible for uneasiness, stressed feelings, irritability, and anxiety. When a person is in withdrawal, this area of the brain will motivate the individual to keep using drugs.
But, the more drugs are used, the more sensitive the circuit will become. As a result, the user will take drugs to ease the discomfort for a short while, not to get high.
3. Basal Ganglia
This area of the brain has a crucial role to play, particularly in pleasurable, motivational, and positive effects. All the healthy activities that people do, like socializing, eating, having intercourse, all of them create healthy routines and habits. This is what we call the “reward circuit” in our brain.
Addiction overstimulates the circuit and overpowers the system. This makes the user only able to feel pleasure by taking the drug and not from anything else.
The Psychological and Physiological Long-Term Effects
The more an individual uses drugs, the more changes they are going to experience in their brain. However, long-term use can and will change the brain circuits and neurons in the nervous system, which can be life-threatening.
Drug addiction is known to cause serious physical health issues like heart disease, liver damage, respiratory problems, kidney damage, gastrointestinal damage, etc.
But, it can also affect the user on a psychological level as well, since it can result in anxiety disorders and depression. It will affect a user’s memory, cognitive functions, brain connections, and cause the brain cells to die eventually.
The damage done to the brain can be permanent, depending on the area affected. Because the brain circuits have been so drastically changed, it will be incredibly difficult to quit these substances and revert the system to normal.