This is Your Brain on Addiction: Trace the Biological Effects

Biological Effects of Addiction on the Brain

This is Your Brain on Addiction: Trace the Biological Effects

The biological effects of addiction on the brain can make you lose control over your own actions, making you slave to the constant hit of addictive behaviors.

Not addressing the condition on time can have a devastating impact on mental, emotional, and physical well-being. 

Many reputed journals and medical societies- National Institute of Drug Abuse, American Medical Association, and the American Society of Addiction Medicine – to name a few have a notion that addiction is a chronic and relapsing disease.

People misinterpret addiction as a personal weakness and find it hard to battle.

The analysis of the Biological Effects of Addiction on the Brain serves the purpose of portraying addiction as a disease.

Addiction is often referred to as a personal choice or a moral problem. Sadly, it isn’t so.

Addiction is a wide-spread disease and such misinterpretation about a chronic disease could be life-threatening!

Plus, addiction is often preceded by numerous emotional and behavioral problems. This substantiates the fact that addiction has biological effects on the brain.

Let us dive deep into the biological effects of addiction on the brain to really understand the repercussions.


How Addiction Affects the Brain

People with addiction lose control over their actions. This is because addiction brings biological changes in the brain. Moreover, the severity of one’s addiction also decides the scale of disruption in neurotic activities.

Basically, addiction is a relationship between a person and an object or activity. With time, the object or activity to which the person is addicted is on the priority list.

Ultimately, it develops as the complex struggle between acting on impulse and resisting that impulse. This struggle tends to interfere in activities of everyday life, family problems, health, and work.

This complex that develops out of addiction to any substance or activity has a biological background.

We need to get into the Neurochemistry of addiction to address the biological effects of addiction on the brain.

Neurochemistry of Addiction

Our brain possesses natural wiring to reward us in return for some pleasurable activities. Some natural pleasure triggers are eating, having sex, exercising, etc. which holds our health and survival extinct.

These pleasurable behaviors result in the release of a Neurotransmitter called dopamine. In addition to feeling good, dopamine encourages us to do the activity that rewards us.

Drugs, such as nicotine, alcohol, opioids, or cocaine, and activities, such as winning in a video game, interacting with people on social media, watching movies, etc. also release dopamine.

More importantly, they trigger the reward system of the brain in an extreme and harmful way. 

Dopamine released by consuming drugs and from certain activities is more than that from natural pleasurable behaviors. 

However, any excess dopamine within the brain’s synapses is removed by the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA).

Dopamine release from consuming drugs, such as Opioids and cocaine, and from certain addictive activities and substances is far more potent. It further prevents the clearing away of excess dopamine by inhibiting the release of GABA.

How Addiction Changes the Rewarding Pattern of the Brain?

The dopamine rush out of drugs, gaming, and social media is so rewarding that the person with addiction focuses on achieving the reward through addictive media rather than natural rewards. In addition, this reinforces the addiction.

Repeated use of a substance or activity trains the brain to associate a high reward with them. As a result, the withdrawal of any addictive activity becomes hard to bear. 

However, the brain motivates users to escape the withdrawal at any cost. So, users are forced to consume the substance or indulge in the activities.

Thus, the use and consumption disorder deepens in intensity.

Substance use and addictive activities are the only things that produce relief from the bad feelings associated with withdrawal.

Drugs, alcohol, and other addictive entities hijack the rewarding circuit of the brain. Moreover, these hook us to want more and more of them.

To add to it, repeated use of such substances also damages the decision-making center of the brain. 

Brain imaging shows the area that helps us detect harms from drug, substance, or activity abuse. The frontal cortex has decreased activity in the influence of addiction.

So, these impacts are evident to conclude that addiction is not a personal choice or a moral weakness. Rather, addiction is a chronic disease with disastrous biological effects on the brain. 

More importantly, we should know the types of addiction, Biological Factors of Addiction and Causes of Addiction to save ourselves from life-threatening Biological Effects of Addiction on the Brain.


Most Common Types of Addiction

The Definition of Addiction has a wide scope. Addiction is commonly addressed as those of drugs and alcohol. But addiction also finds its way into compulsive behavior or through patterns like gambling or even shopping. 

Precisely, addiction has two broad classifications:

  • Chemical Addiction
  • Behavioral Addiction

#1. Chemical Addiction

This type of addiction refers to the addiction involving substance abuse. Chemical is a little bit tricky to explain for there is a thin line between substance misuse, dependency, and addiction. 

Therefore, the recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders terms chemical addiction as ‘Substance use disorder’.

Further, depending on the clinical diagnosis and analysis, it should be categorized into mild, moderate, and severe cases.

Common substances Involved with Chemical Addiction are:

  • alcohol
  • opioids, including heroin and even prescription painkillers like oxycodone and morphine
  • cannabis
  • nicotine
  • amphetamines
  • cocaine
  • methamphetamine 

Common Symptoms of Chemical Addiction Include:

  • Intense craving interfering with daily activities
  • Discomfort due to difficult or no access to the substance
  • Risky usage of substance while working, traveling, or driving, etc.
  • Inability to discontinue the substance
  • Trouble managing work, academic, and household responsibility due to substance use
  • Relationship and friendship issues arising out of substance use 
  • Spending less time on enjoyable activities 
  • Withdrawal symptoms while trying to leave using the substance

Moreover, addiction is not limited to drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes. Though, there are some disagreements between some of the medical institutes to address compulsive behavior and patterns as addiction. 

Yet, most of the medical societies categorize addiction into two, one as explained above ‘chemical addiction’ and the other ‘behavioral addiction’.

#2. Behavioral Addiction

Most people restrict the definition of addiction to the dependence on substances, such as alcohol, nicotine, illicit drugs, or even prescription medications.

Altogether, they have a hard time accepting that people can also develop addictive behaviors which include gambling, sex, or the giant Internet.

The activities are often so normal that it’s hard to believe that they are really addicted to a behavior.

Yet, the vicious cycle of addiction to the behavior keeps on taking over with more and more wanting to pursue it.

Precisely put, people tend to seek and search for opportunities to indulge in the behavior.

This behavior addiction is also termed as process addiction that ultimately intervenes with the day-to-day life and activities.

Most of these addictions are not enlisted by DSM-5, the leading medical and diagnostic guide for mental health professionals.

Still, many institutes list down a number of behavioral addictions including: 

  • Gambling addiction
  • Sex addiction
  • Internet and Social Media Addiction
  • Shopping addiction
  • Video Game Addiction
  • Food addiction
  • Exercise addiction
  • Work addiction
  • Tattoo addiction
  • Love addiction

These behaviors, when excessive, can interfere with your daily activities.

So, you need to pay heed if these are causing you trouble and disrupting and distressing your brain.

Common Symptoms Associated with Addictive Behaviors Include:

  • Neglecting work, school, and other loads and engaging in a behavior
  • Become dependent on the behavior and see it as an escape from all problems
  • Symptoms of withdrawal when trying to cut it off
  • Continuing to indulge despite mental, physical, or emotional harm
  • Lack of concentration

It can be difficult to admit a behavioral addiction to yourself. You should rather consult a health professional if you’re experiencing any of these symptoms.

In today’s era, it would not be inapt to state that you can get addicted to any of the behaviors or substances.

So, it’s really important to have knowledge of what causes these addictions.

Researchers and many health studies have established a three-factor model for vulnerability to addiction.


Can Addiction Run in the Family? | Exploring the Causes of Addiction

The three-factor model for the vulnerability of addiction includes genetic factors, environmental factors, and repeated exposure.


Can Addiction Run in the Family’ has been a topic of strong debate.

Reports have claimed that 40% to 60% of predisposition to addiction is a result of genetics.

Furthermore, it was found that children of individuals who suffer any kind of addiction are 25% more likely to develop any addiction than the children of individuals with no addiction.

However, gender and sex differences in substance abuse also have their own role in determining the nature of addiction in men and women.

A recent study by the American Psychological Association also aims to establish gender as one of the potential causes of addiction or at least predisposition to addiction.

This study found men to get involved in higher dosage of drugs while women faced a higher rate of relapse than men. 

Moreover, women are more prone to Psychological Causes of Addiction like mood, anxiety disorders, and addiction.

Environmental Factor

The environment in which an individual is raised and continues to thrive in has a pivotal role to play in physical, mental, and emotional well-being. 

An environment that creates psychological distress like anxiety, depression, and loneliness pushes an individual to take up any substance or behavior as an escape. This further results in addiction.

Moreover, if drug use is common in the home or locality one is living in, it desensitizes him/her towards a substance. This increases their vulnerability to fall into addiction.

The use of drugs by children owing to happiness and the triggering of the brain’s reward system is also a factor. It’ll naturally want them to do it again and again.

Repeated Exposure 

We discussed the two major factors that contribute to addiction – genetics and the environment.

Most of all, these result in addiction due to the repeated exposure to a substance or activity consumed by any individual.

Dopamine dominance is seen over these artificial rewarding factors like drugs, alcohol, compulsive behaviors, etc. And the physical dependency on these factors for stableness increases with time.

Not only does addiction affect the brain but it also hampers physical healthiness. Brain on Drugs is an issue to ponder upon.


Physiological Impact of Addiction

Alterations in the biological structure of the brain owing to addiction also result in various short-term and long-term effects on the body. 

It entirely depends on the extent of the addiction an individual suffers from. 

Some short-term physiological impacts of addiction include:

  • Changes in appetite
  • Sleeplessness or insomnia
  • Increased heart rate
  • Slurred speech
  • Changes in cognitive ability
  • The temporary sense of euphoria
  • Loss of coordination

Whereas, long-term physiological impacts of addiction (generally due to chemical addiction) include:

#1. Psychological Effects

Depression, anxiety, panic disorders, increased aggression, paranoia, and hallucinations result in unwell physiological coordination, lack of concentration, and even unresponsiveness to certain situations.

#2. Cardiovascular Diseases

Long term substance use can damage the heart and blood vessels. Further, leading to coronary artery disease, arrhythmia, and heart attack.

#3. Respiratory Problems

Drugs that people smoke or inhale can lead to chronic respiratory infection and diseases. It depresses a person’s respiratory system leading to slow breathing and snoring.

#4. Kidney Damage

The kidneys carry out the filtration of blood. Substances like heroin, ketamine, and synthetic cannabinoids can cause kidney damage or kidney failure.

#5. Liver Disease

Long-term chemical addiction can damage liver cells. This often results in inflammation, scarring of the liver, and even liver failure.

The Science of Addiction states that overcoming addiction is possible but it is not an easy job to do.

It’s more like a journey in which one ventures through uncharted territories before attaining the final destination.

Each territory throws some challenges and with each challenge you are a step closer to free yourself from addiction.

So, let us have a look at the stages of recovery from addiction.


Stages of Recovery from Addiction

It is really a brave and self-nourishing step to choose to recover from addiction.

Overcoming addiction finds its definition in six stages of the framework that corresponds to a particular phase from active addiction to lasting sobriety.

The Stages of Recovery from Addiction Lists As:

#1. Pre-Contemplation

In the pre-contemplation stage, the addict is aware of his/her addiction and the consequences involved with it.

But he/she tries to minimize the impact and prefers to remain under addiction rather than seek any rehabilitative service.

#2. Contemplation

This stage is marked by the awareness of the addict of the fact that consequences are more than he or she previously believed.

The addict openly accepts that he/she has substance abuse problems but tends to throw excuses when asked for recovery.

#3. Preparation

The preparation stage marks the realization of the addict that the repercussions of addiction far outweigh any perceived benefits.

Moreover, he or she is ready to adopt some behavioral changes. Adding to it, the addict accepts that there is a need for treatment.

#4. Action

As the addict has accepted the fact that he needs treatment.

Further, he involves himself or herself in a treatment program, a 12-Step group, or utilizing some other type of resource for rehabilitation.

#5. Maintenance

The stage requires the addict to “maintain” the sobriety acquired during the action stage.

However, this stage is not taken seriously but has a huge impact on de-addiction. It shows the determination to remain sober and de-addict.

#6. Termination

At this particular stage, the recovery from addiction is complete. This characterizes the health of an individual. 

These stages give an insight into the detailed recovery from addiction. However, it’s your determination that has the main role in keeping you healthy.

Abstain from any such addictive substances or behavior that might land you in such conditions.


Closing Remarks

So far, it has been quite evident how addiction can have disturbing effects on the brain and overall health. It can alter the way your brain perceives natural rewards.

Thus, the intense rush of dopamine can make you its prisoner in no time. 

While not always, genetics and an individual’s environment also influences the propensity to fall into addiction.

Thus, it becomes crucial to address the psychological distress in a child’s environment while growing up.

Or else, the results can be devastating and many previous instances show that. 

Moreover, finding a solution to recurring patterns of addictive behaviors is also worrisome. Not addressing the early signs make repeated exposure more likely to happen. 

Luckily, recovery from the biological effects of addiction on the brain is not unheard of.

However, it’s a tough road, and support of the near and dear ones could be the most useful tool.


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