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Your brain and addiction

Drugs affect the chemical makeup of the brain and can lead to long-term issues

Substance Abuse Leads to Long-Term Effects on the Brain

Drugs change the brain over time and make it difficult to get out of the vicious cycle. Created by: Jessica Ferrarelli 

More and more people around the world are changing the way they view addiction. In the past, it was primarily considered to be a moral failing to use drugs or alcohol. Families did not understand why their loved one could not just stop using. However, science is making it easier to comprehend what our friends and families are going through and breaking the stigma associated with addiction.

Brain imaging of people with addiction show physical changes in areas of the brain that are critical to decision-making, learning, memory and behavior. The idea of addiction has shifted from a choice that someone could stop at any moment to a disease that takes control of the brain, leaving the individual fighting a constant battle.

“They’ll say well they picked up, and that was their choice to pick up,” Stephanie Hastings, recovery service community coordinator at Pro-A, said. “The first time, yes, but without understanding the science behind addiction and how it impacts the brain, it’s hard for people to understand that it’s not free will, it’s not free choice.”

According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, addiction is defined as “a chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences.” The brother, sister, cousin, mother, father or child cannot comprehend the negative consequences of their actions because their brain longs for the substance that makes them feel good. Once the individual starts taking substances more often, changes in the brain start to occur. These changes can affect a person’s behavior, mood and health, and the effects are long-term.

It is common to become angry when a loved one, after being clean, reverts back to using. However, science has helped us understand that relapse is part of recovery. There are long-term effects on the brain that do not heal overnight.

“Every time you take a substance is a pleasure reward,” Beth Mingey, director, prevention/education at Holcomb Behavioral Health Systems, said. “When the substance leaves, it’s pain and it is a pain negative stimulus. So, of course your body is going to say ‘give more…give more’ and the person ultimately just needs more to not even feel sick.”

Those suffering from this disease can revert back to old behaviors due to triggers, such as going to the place and being around the people they would once get high with. It is hard to see a loved one suffering, but understanding substance abuse and recovery on a biochemical level is the first place to start.

Written by: Jessica Ferrarelli