How Does an Addicted Brain Work? The Science Behind Addiction

addicted brain

Worldwide, more than 35 million people suffer from drug addiction. Drug addiction is a very serious problem, no matter what drug may be involved. But how does an addicted brain work?

How is it any different from a regular, healthy brain? More than that, how well can an addicted brain recover after a drug addict stops abusing a certain drug? Keep reading and learn more about the science behind addiction and how the brain changes in response to drug use. 

What You Need to Know About the Addicted Brain

The first thing you should know about the addicted brain is that it has everything to do with dopamine. Dopamine is a chemical known as a neurotransmitter in the brain. Normally, the brain produces this chemical in order to balance the brain’s response to pleasure. 

In fact, this chemical is known as the “feel-good” hormone due to the way it interacts with the brain’s pleasure centers. Certain everyday things will cause the brain to release dopamine. For example, eating food will cause the brain to release this chemical. 

This is why eating food is such a pleasurable experience. Because it is a pleasurable experience, you will be compelled to continue eating at some point in the future. Some people who have food addictions may eat all the time due to the pleasure they get from eating. 

In a way, a person can become addicted to anything that involves the release of dopamine, and drugs don’t always need to be involved. Eating, having sex, gambling, and so on, all release dopamine, which is why these behaviors can become addictive. Drugs, on the other hand, produce much more powerful boosts of pleasure due to the fact that they have a more direct response to the brain. 

Let us continue to further consider dopamine. The brain produces large amounts of dopamine in response to everyday actions such as eating. However, addictive drugs will cause an unusually large boost in dopamine.

This will cause something known as euphoria or a high. Most addictive drugs produce very powerful highs such as meth, cocaine, heroin, and so on. However, even minor drugs such as nicotine or alcohol produce a high to some extent. 

The Details

Whatever the case, when a person experiences a high from a drug, this high is usually so powerful that it will make the person addicted to the drug right then and there. Of course, this doesn’t always happen. A person might experience a drug high and not feel compelled to use the drug again. 

Other people may become addicted the first time they use a drug. This difference is likely genetic and some people may be predisposed to become addicted to a substance or drug compared to others. Whatever the case, once a person becomes addicted to a drug, many problems will start to occur. 

In particular, getting addicted to a drug will change the way a person’s brain produces dopamine. In particular, the pleasurable effects of the drug at hand will force the brain to stop producing dopamine on its own. Instead, the drug will act as the sole source of dopamine. 

This is why the potential for addiction is so strong. In order to feel good, the addict must continue using the drug. Otherwise, the high will come to an end, and instead, withdrawal symptoms will take their place. 

Withdrawal symptoms can be very powerful due to the fact that, for a certain period, the brain will not be able to produce hardly any dopamine. This will cause the person to experience a severe lack of pleasure and well-being. 

This often results in severe depression and anxiety until the brain is able to start producing its own dopamine again. But how else do drug abuse and addiction affect the brain?

Understanding the Addicted Brain

Another thing you should know about drug addiction and the brain is that the brain will slowly become less and less sensitive to drug use over time. For example, suppose you abuse heroin for the first time. The first time you use the drug will produce the strongest high. 

This is because your brain has never been exposed to the power of this drug before, so it is very sensitive to its presence in the body. The addictive potential of the drug may spur you to continue using it at the same dose. However, at a certain point, the brain will start to become more and more accustomed to the presence of that drug in the blood.

As a result, the same dose will not produce the same powerful euphoria as the first time. While the drug will still produce a high, it will often be unsatisfying and not able to scratch the itch that you require. In this case, you may be spurred to try a larger dose. 

This larger dose will produce a more powerful high since the brain is not yet used to such a large dose. However, if you continue taking the drug at such a large dose, your brain will eventually become accustomed to this dose as well. This is known as habituation. 

What You Need to Know

Your brain will naturally adapt to the presence of a drug until it no longer produces the original, powerful high. This can quickly become very dangerous. This is because a drug user will be compelled to continue taking larger and larger doses of a drug in order to experience a pleasurable high. 

However, the body can only handle so much of the drug at once. Often, in an attempt to experience a powerful high, a person may accidentally overdose on the addictive drug. This can be fatal or it may cause serious damage to the brain and body. 

Many drug overdoses are accidental. This is because the person at hand may not realize that a dose that is even slightly larger than usual can have the potential to kill them. This, of course, is one of the major dangers of drug abuse and addiction. 

But there is still more to consider. 

What Else Should You Know About the Addicted Brain?

Another thing you should know about drug addiction is that it can physically alter the structure of the brain. While you may know that being addicted to drugs can change the way a person acts and thinks, you may not know that some drugs can seriously damage some parts of the brain. As mentioned before, drugs can keep the brain from producing dopamine on its own, which can cause all sorts of problems. 

But there are plenty of problems that go beyond that. Hard drugs like alcohol, meth, and heroin can alter the structure of the brain, especially parts that are responsible for mood and memory. This is also likely due to how the drugs affect the brain’s production of dopamine, which is partially responsible for memory. 

Many people who abuse drugs for long periods of time experience memory problems. Even if they get sober, they may still have memory problems due to how the drugs damage the portions of the brain responsible for memory. As a result, these people may have difficulty memorizing new information and recalling old information. 

Other Issues

They may even forget what they are saying in the middle of a sentence. Drugs can also change a person’s mood and how they interact with other people. The presence of an addictive drug will usually change the person’s behavior in some way. 

For example, they may start exhibiting drug-seeking behavior. This means that the person will behave in a way that will allow them to get more drugs. They may steal from their loved ones so that they can buy more drugs, or they may steal medication from people. 

In some cases, drug addicts may become violent or may suffer from unpredictable mood swings. For example, the drug user may act normal in one moment but may become very angry or violent in the next moment. Fortunately, addiction treatment can solve these problems. 

By getting a drug addict the right kind of help, it will be much easier to help the person recover and become sober. 

All About the Addicted Brain

The addicted brain is a tough thing to deal with. Once a person becomes addicted to drugs, the presence of drugs in the body will change the way the brain works and behaves. This is what makes it so difficult to just stop using drugs. 

Fortunately, professional drug addiction treatment can help. To learn more about drug addiction treatment and how it works, don’t hesitate to contact us here

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50 comments
  1. I find it Ironic that the hormone that is responsible for us being happy is also the same one that causes addiction.However it is what it is. At the end of the day just like everything an inanimate object is not dangerous but who uses it is. It is a person who pulls the trigger.

  2. I know that an addicted brain don’t just happen. it is just like being used to a thing. i’m addicted to good food though.

  3. Addiction begins small till it becomes full blown. The body isn’t in anyway robotic. Try to manage it wisely. Great article here.

  4. This is such a informative article. I didn’t know that drug addiction can change the structure of your brain leave alone alter the way your brain functions.

  5. All the activities done by human is wired from the brain. However, if one is an addict, the content of the drugs goes to the brain which in turn changes the way an addict behaves. The continuous use of the drug can also result to memory loss.

  6. I hope people that are yet to start drugs read this. They need to stop moving on to take drugs. it isn’t good for the brain.

  7. Addiction of any drug is not good. An addicted brain may lead to forgetfulness. It causes mood swings. An addicted person may have negative behaviours. The best thing is to do everything moderately. Thanks.

  8. An addicted person’s brain is over worked which later brings about malfunctioning. The only way out is to leave the consumption of these drugs.

  9. An addicted person’s brain is over worked which later brings about malfunctioning. The only way out is to leave the consumption of these hard drugs.

  10. This post is really educative. Thanks for sharing this beautiful piece with us. It’s always good not to be addicted to anything because it causes more harm than good

  11. Wow I have never heard of the adverse effects of drugs and other addictive substances on the brain. I will have to be on the lookout of the things that can affect my dopamine levels and lead to addictions.

  12. I am also an addict. I am addicted to behavioural addiction. I can say that the brain’s reward circuit plays a very important role when it comes to any kind of addiction. This also involves the limbic system and the prefrontal cortex as well.

  13. I know drugs or substance abuse can affect the brain a great deal, and most times in a negative way. The best an addict can do is to get treatment so the brain can reset to how it should be.

  14. I hope people know that drugs destroys a part of the brain. It changes the way we think, act and talk. It’s also true that if you have been using drugs for long, memory problem is one consequence of the action. I can only hope that people understand the negative effects of drugs and put a stop to it. it’s not worth it. thanks for posting

  15. Wow, it is amazing how the brain can get addicted to things by the release of dopamine. So invariably we have to watch what we do, if not we can get addicted.

  16. This quite alarming. Our brain would usually function normally without taking any thing, but once we take drugs that “boosts” our brain function, our cells would sometimes kill itself from overwork. Brain cells are the only cells that do not regenerate, that is why we need to take care of it properly.

  17. Thanks a lot for this information. I have learnt how the release of dopamine interacts with the usage of drugs which is solely responsible for addictive behaviors.

  18. I used to think one can only get addicted to drugs. Turns out whatever causes a dopamine release can also trigger an addiction.

  19. Thank you Detax to rehab for sharing these type of stories with all of us.These stories are really very much inspirational for many people.

  20. This is a very detailed and informative article about understanding the brain of addiction. I praise you for you work. May you continue to share this kind of information, so that everybody becomes aware.

  21. I wouldn’t get into drug just to get high, I understand the circumstances behind eating foods, it comes with dopamine, and such can be controlled. I can’t go extra miles, taking hard drugs just to get high.

  22. This is one of the most exciting and enlightening articles I have ever read online. The post has been very informative at least I got to know about dopamine.

  23. The amount of lives that have been ruined due to addiction is staggering. Many thanks for shedding light on how addiction actually comes about.

  24. Addicted brain works under the influence of drug. However, addiction is very detrimental to people’s health. ABababstinence is the key.

  25. This was an intense read. I don’t think I would have been able to learn so much about the science behind addiction were it not for this article.

  26. I now understand why the first high from a drug is always more intense than all subsequent highs. It makes so much sense. Thanks for posting this 🙂

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