Drug addiction CAUSES changes in the brain!
Research on how people become addicted and what constitutes addiction is ever-changing. Addiction is a complex issue, but let’s take a look at some of what is known to get a better idea of what is going on inside the addict and why addiction is a disease of the brain and not just a behavioral issue.
Drug addiction CAUSES changes to the brain that make person want the drug more than anything else in their life.
Dr. David Mays, MD, PhD recently gave a seminar where he discussed the recent research finding about the brain and addiction. This page is based on his observations and presentation.
Drug Abuse CHANGES the brain
Repeated use of a substance reorganizes the neurological circuits in the brain. Drug stimuli become over-valued in the primitive parts of the brain and as the disease develops, what starts as an impulsive act becomes a compulsion because of the brain chemical changes.
There is reduced salience for non-drug motivational stimuli, meaning that as the brain begins to prefer the drug of choice it lessons its preference for other things. The drug user begins to ONLY get PLEASURE from the drug and obtaining the drug. All other stimuli no longer give pleasure. What happens is that non-drug choices are eventually eliminated and decision-masking ability is reduced.
Addicts instead focus on how to get the drug, because that is what the primitive part of the brain tells them to do, they lose connection with there own decision making processes.
Primitive section of the brain literally reduces communication with reasoning
Glutamate is a nerve cell messenger in the brain. It is present in the connection between the nucleus accumbens and the per-frontal cortex. Nucleus accumbensn (the primitive part of the brain) is a part of the brain that plays an important role in reward, pleasure, reinforcement learning, laughter, addiction, aggression, fear, impulsivity and the placebo effect.
The per-frontal cortex is the decision-making part of the brain. Teenagers lack a fully-developed per-frontal cortex, which does not mature until about age 25. That’s why teens often make impulsive and harmful decisions.
In an addict, the glutamate receptors malfunction and reduce the communication between these two sections of the brain. What this means is the person may not be able to learn that:
“when I use drugs bad things happen.”
The addict becomes inflexible. Because the pre-frontal cortex in a teenager is not fully developed, you can understand that the earlier a teen is exposed to drugs, the greater the problem, because the drug may cause the brain not to develop at all and NEVER fully the develop the connection between pleasure and reason.
Research is now showing WHY addicts lose control over the drug
When brain chemistry changes and the addict loses control over their ability to chose, the diseased brain sort of goes on “automatic pilot” and choice is not factored into the decision making process.
They can’t choose not to use the drug. They choose to use the drug because that’s the way their brain has been rewired. It’s not a matter of will power, or even self determination. As the disease of addiction takes over the life of the addict, their choice is removed and they become a slave to the drug.
Why they can’t make the decision to quit
The idea of asking an addict if they want help will almost assure a negative response. The addiction does not want to be treated and the craving for the drug and the lack of rational decision-masking ability makes the addict the worst person in the room to ask.
Addicts deny their problem, run from treatment options and like so many celebrity addicts, walk out of in-patient treatment centers because they don’t agree with the treatment plans. At some level, the addict isn’t responsible, so decisions must be made for them. However, in America the individual is king, so an addict, even severely in trouble, can refuse treatment.
Brain controls the addict and says they MUST have the drug
Sadly, we take a disease and treat it like a criminal act. While it is common for an addict to break the law because they are constantly searching for their drug of choice and will do anything to obtain it, they are people who through bad decision making have developed a hideous disease. You can take the addict/alcoholic and lock them up for a period of time and dry them out, but in the end all you have is a dry drunk, or an addict that hasn’t used in a while.
To bring the addict back to a healthy lifestyle requires the rewiring of the brain, to counteract the chemical changes that have taken place.
Addiction is treatable
Addiction is a disease of the brain and a complex social issue, but it is treatable. Because the addict/alcoholic cannot make their own decisions, even though the law deems it so, friends and family need to make every effort to see to it that they get the treatment they need. The disease, left unchecked, can lead to a short life and a sad existence.