Understanding the Addict’s Brain
The face of addiction is constantly in flux and the prevailing belief is moving toward the idea that an addict’s brain is wired differently than that of a “normal” person. Several prestigious labs and universities have spent years studying this belief and although the findings differ slightly, there is one overwhelming consensus: the addict’s brain is forever altered by his addiction.
In other words, the constant use and abuse of certain substances, including drug, alcohol and even nicotine, can alter the brain’s chemistry, ultimately making the person’s addiction more severe. Learn about the changes that occur in the addict’s brain, the role of dopamine and how a person’s environment affects their addiction.
Addict’s Brain vs. “Normal” Brain
A recent study performed at the National Institute on Drug Abuse found a key link between brain activity and several addictive behaviors, including overeating and drug abuse. Brain scans performed on the addict’s brain found that the continued use and abuse of many substances, including drugs and alcohol, actually altered their brain chemistry.
The change also didn’t magically correct itself once the addict discontinued abusing his drug of choice. Another component of the study centered on the role that dopamine, which is the neurotransmitter that affects a person’s emotional state and triggers sensations of happiness, plays in addiction. The patients were shown photos of certain foods and the researchers found that dopamine was released when certain pictures were viewed. Basically, the food addict’s craving was directly correlated to the release of dopamine.
A Predisposition to Addiction
For many, their issues with drug, alcohol, food, gambling or nicotine addiction began far before they even picked up their first cigarette, needle or cheeseburger. Several researchers, including those working at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, believe that certain abnormalities in the brain can predispose a person to addiction. More specifically, the patient’s brains weren’t able to control themselves when confronted with their drug of choice, whether it was a donut, liquor or cocaine. These studies are aimed at determining if a person is predisposed to addiction, which can help them understand this issue and work toward strengthening their self-control.
Genetics and Addiction
A University of Utah study is utilizing candidate gene approach to learn about the role genetics plays in addiction. A group of patients suffering from nicotine addiction and ADHD, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, were gathered and a specific gene, CHRNA4, was tested to determine the link between the two. Although not everyone’s CHRNA4 genes were affected, the researchers found that an abnormality in the gene can play a role in addiction. This study is only the tip of the iceberg, as addiction is far more complicated than pinpointing the presence of abnormality in a single gene.
Addiction and Environment
The brain’s chemistry and genetic factors are only a small part of the addiction picture. A person’s environment also plays a key role in determining whether someone will fall into addiction or have the self-control enough to say “no,” even when the odds are stacked against them. One aspect of this issue is the person’s community and the overall attitude toward drug and alcohol use.
Several studies show that teens and adults living in a town or community that is ambivalent, or even encourages unwanted behaviors, are more prone to experimenting with drugs or becoming addicted. Peer pressure is another major factor and for some teens and adolescents is the singular reason why they began using drugs, alcohol or nicotine.
The family life has a two-fold effect on the likelihood a teen or young adult will either begin experimenting with certain drug, or become a full-fledged addict. Once again it has a lot to do with a parent’s attitude toward drug and alcohol use. In some cases the parent abuses substances directly in front of the child. A tumultuous home life will often push teens toward drug abuse as a way to escape, cope or have a derisive reaction to the situation.
Many times simply telling a teen, friend, family member or addict to “say no!” to drugs and alcohol isn’t enough to keep them from falling into addiction. As shown, the brain’s chemistry, genetics and environmental factors all play a significant role in the spectrum of addiction, and this understanding will finally shed some much-needed light on the misconception that addicts are simply lazy, lack self-control or even enjoy their disease.
This guest post article was written and provided by Gregg Gustafson who is a freelance writer and consultant for Drug-Rehab.org. Gustafson works with individuals who suffer from drug abuse, in turn referring them to some of the most prestige long term drug rehab centers active today.