How the Addicted Brain Works: Rethinking Societal Stigma

The doctors at our Fayetteville recovery center celebrate each new patient as a champion. They’ve overcome their own inner fears, but most importantly the stigma associated with drug addiction. There is still a pervasive belief that addiction is a choice and the result of many bad decisions. What people fail to understand is how the addicted brain works.

A person who has developed addiction cannot think like everyone else. They cannot make the reasonable and healthy decisions a non-addict would make for their own wellbeing. Let us explain why people with an addiction think and act differently from others.

Understanding the Dopamine Pathway

Our brain is extremely simple and straightforward in perceiving pleasure. It does not matter if it is our favorite cake, a bonus at work or a sexual encounter. Whenever a pleasurable event occurs, the brain releases the neurotransmitter dopamine into the nucleus accumbens – a cluster of cells which is also known as the brain’s pleasure center.

The regular dopamine pathway is simple: a special behavior is pleasurable, so the brain rewards it by releasing dopamine into the nucleus accumbens. And this is why we feel happy, satisfied or experience pleasure.

Moreover, the brain remembers each action which caused the dopamine release. This is why we feel the impulse to repeat the actions that give us pleasure. Actually, this is one of the most primitive functions of the brain: the reward system which reminds us to do actions necessary for surviving: eating, drinking water and creating offspring through sex.

Addiction Hijacks the Dopamine Pathway

Now, what happens when someone tries a drug for the first time? These substances are formulated to trigger an immense release of dopamine into the brain. The brain is flooded with 10 times more dopamine than any regular pleasurable activity.

Addiction appears when the brain associates the massive dopamine surge with the respective substance. But here is where the problem starts – in time, the brain becomes less sensitive to dopamine.

This is where the dopamine pathway hijacking occurs: the person needs to take more drugs and more frequently to achieve the pleasurable sensation they are craving.

drug addiction charges the human brain

Drug Addiction Shows on Brain Scans

The doctors at our Fayetteville recovery center know that the different way in which the addicted brain works is not just a theory. Researchers from all over the world have conducted studies and experiments on animal brains, documented with CT scans.

The areas of the brain activated by drug use are visible on these detailed scans. Also, physical changes to dopamine processing brain compounds are visible. For instance, morphine addiction causes these compounds to shrink.

A brain affected by drug addiction not only thinks differently. It also works and looks differently from the brain of a person who does not have an addiction.

Replacing Addiction Stigma with Compassion

In view of these facts, it is important for friends and family members of people suffering from drug addiction to change their view on their loved one. Addiction is not a choice, it is a brain condition.

It can be treated, by applying science-based therapies and special medications. However, the person must feel safe and comfortable enough to seek help. It is an extremely difficult decision, because now the patient is fighting against their own brain and the hijacked impulses and behaviors it has developed.

Discuss Drug Addiction with the Team at Our Fayetteville Recovery Center

Drug addiction changes the lives of everyone around the person who is using drugs. It is a problem which spreads in ripples and affects every family member and close friend. However, shaming and isolating the addict is not a solution.

They are no longer acting out of their own free will. Their addicted brain works differently from a non-addict’s brain and they are already afraid of losing the trust and love of the people around them.

The doctors at our Fayetteville recovery center are here to help everyone – drug addiction victims and their loved ones. Call us today to schedule an initial appointment at 984-223-5341!