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Addiction and the Brain: How Is Learning Impacted by Drugs?

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Addiction and the brain; a complex formula that still leaves many researchers with more questions than answers.  We know the brain is greatly affected when an addicted individual actively partakes in their addictive behaviors, but it’s still confusing why certain individuals respond to treatment more quickly than other addicts and/or alcoholics.

Addiction and the Brain Explained

Defined as a chronic brain disease, addiction has no known cure, but it is treatable.  Finding the most effective course of treatment can easily seem overwhelming due to the quantity and wide range of options available.  The standard stages of the process of recovery – including detoxification, counseling, medication, and Twelve-Step Programs – could leave anyone lost and confused when deciding where to turn first or next.

Additionally, it’s not totally clear why each alcoholic and/or addict may show signs of progressing in their recovery at different rates; there is no reliable or consistent course of treatment that guarantees success at any particular speed.  In other words, some people may notice relief from the symptoms of their disease quicker, while others struggle for a while longer.  The process of recovery and noticing relief are bound to vary for each individual. Specifically pertaining to addiction and the brain, the disease manifests itself within the mind, where it compels people to act out on the urge of cravings in spite of negative consequences.

Addiction and the brain are closely related, because excessive use of drugs and alcohol re-wire the brain to interpret reward circuitry in an entirely different manner.  The brain then misunderstands pleasure, learning, and motivation, which is why in early recovery, addicts and alcoholics can easily struggle with memory problems, concentration, irritability, and frustration (just to name a few).  When the brain’s chemistry is altered because of a pattern of addictive behaviors, the individual’s ability to function normally is jeopardized due to the disruption in communication with dopamine, serotonin, acetylcholine, GABA, and glutamate receptors.  Neurons are an important component in the brain that allow humans to communicate; drugs create direct damage to them, and addiction can prove to cause repetitive trauma to them.

Relation to Recovery Process

Through the process of recovery, the brain has to re-adjust until it can learn to create new ways to send out messages. This is due to the damage caused to the impaired neurons, or “neuronal plasticity”.  It’s important for all recovering addicts and alcoholics to be aware of this process of healing, so they have the necessary motivation to keep them steadfast in the process of their recovery.  The more that they are willing to work on the course of their treatment, the sooner the process will begin to take effect.  Sometimes the results may take effect slowly or quickly, but however the rate of recovery goes, the individual must re-train their brain by focusing on healthier habits and ways of living.  Feelings of unease and discomfort will slowly slip away as their new life of recovery becomes more stable.

Addiction and the brain are closely intertwined due to the disease’s mental, emotional, and physical toll.  Addicts and alcoholics should rest assured that over time, through the recovery process, they will be able to re-train the functioning of their brains as they implement healthier lifestyle changes and abstain from continuous abuse by not acting on their addictive behaviors.

Are you in the midst of a downward spiral of addiction?  Contact The Watershed Texas today because recovery is possible for anyone – and that includes you!  Freedom from addiction is indescribable, and you deserve the opportunity to experience a life free from the clutches of substance abuse.




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