The Addicted Brain
The brain of someone addicted to drugs and alcohol differs from someone who is not. We know that those who struggle or struggled with addiction are different physiologically than those who can control their substance use. But what are those differences and what do they look like in the brain?
There is a reason that some individuals can take substances and some cannot without becoming addicted immediately or shortly after. Some brains are just wired for addiction. Genetics plays a big role and those with other addicts in their families can pass along genes that make individuals respond differently to alcohol and drugs.
Scientists and addiction research specialists trace this phenomenon back to how the brain functions with Dopamine.
In a typical brain, dopamine is released during a pleasurable event, like having an orgasm. The brain quickly returns back to a normal equilibrium state once the event is over. However, in the brain of an addict, the dopamine sky rockets and doesn’t return back to an equilibrium. Instead it comes plunging down which puts individuals in all-time low. This is how the cycle of addiction can start. After an addicted individual comes down they feel that they must get that high again because anything is better than the low.
It’s important to note that a genetic predisposition to addiction doesn’t necessarily mean an individual is bound to have one. Addiction can be avoided by pure sobriety or partaking in such activities very minimally. Furthermore, some scientists believe that we are all hard wired for addiction if exposed enough to certain substances.
The Addicted Brain
Biological and genetic disposition is not the sole reason for addiction. It is also the attentional biases associated with the substance use. For example, perhaps when someone drinks it may be rewarding because of the social setting that it occurs in. This attentional bias can enhance the reward receptors even more than just the alcohol alone.
It is also important to note that the brain changes when it is undergoing addiction even if there was not predisposition prior to the addiction.
The following image compares a typical brain to an addicted brain: