If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, you know firsthand that taking your life back from substance abuse is challenging. You might experience cravings or withdrawal symptoms, or you might have gotten sober before but relapsed. Why is addiction so difficult to conquer? The neuroscience of addiction and its effect on the brain can help you understand how substance use disorders take root.
While addiction is a chronic disease, you shouldn’t be discouraged about how effective rehab can be. A drug detox center that understands addiction and the brain can help you develop the healthy coping skills you need to stay sober long-term.
What Is Neuroscience?
Neuroscience is simply the study of the nervous system, what it does, and how it changes.
Those who study the brain work to understand how the nervous system can affect behavior. They might look at how different disorders or conditions can impact cognitive functioning. Substance abuse causes changes in the brain that can be significant depending on the severity of the addiction.
Understanding the role that addiction plays in changing the brain has helped doctors and therapists create addiction treatment therapy plans that help individuals take back their lives from substance use disorders.
How Addiction Changes the Brain
Many individuals don’t know that drug and alcohol abuse can actually change the brain, affecting cognitive functions and behaviors. This is evident in the decisions that someone who is struggling with addiction makes. They might:
- Use drugs or alcohol despite negative consequences
- Lose control over their substance use
- Experience powerful cravings for drugs or alcohol
In the past, some people believed that addiction was a choice and that someone with enough willpower could get sober and stay sober on their own. Those who did not get sober might have been thought to not have enough strength or motivation to overcome addiction.
However, we now know that drug and alcohol abuse causes changes in the brain that make it difficult to break the cycle of addiction. Addiction does not discriminate in who it impacts–individuals of all ages, income levels, sexual orientations, and backgrounds struggle with addiction. While genetics can play a role in developing an addiction, behavior, and environment are important factors as well.
What Makes Certain Substances Addictive
Why do people become addicted to certain substances? Drugs like opioids, stimulants, and benzodiazepines are highly addictive because they cause surges of dopamine. Dopamine creates powerful feelings of pleasure, euphoria, and well-being. Upon first use, the hippocampus retains a memory of this good feeling, which makes an individual associate the substance with pleasure. Substances that provide a more powerful surge of dopamine, like heroin, are especially addictive.
The brain creates cravings for the substance over time. Using an addictive substance repeatedly can make the brain communicate not only that you want the substance, but that you have to have it.
However, for many, no high will ever compare to their first time using. There are a few reasons why this happens.
- Addictive substances are only a shortcut to feeling good
- The brain cannot handle too much dopamine
- The brain responds to this rush of dopamine by producing less of it naturally or eliminating receptors
- This makes it difficult to feel happy naturally
- An individual will believe that the only way to feel good is by using the substance
This is why some individuals will relapse even after they have been sober for a long time. Certain triggers, like stress, seeing someone using, or feelings of depression can make it difficult to maintain sobriety. Relapse can be dangerous, however. When someone is using regularly, they build up a tolerance to the substance. Their body and brain come to depend on the substance in order to function and to feel normal. After an extended period of sobriety, however, this tolerance diminishes. If the individual uses the amount that they were once used to, it could overwhelm their system.
Even though addiction can cause these changes to the brain, inpatient drug rehab programs can help individuals achieve lasting, meaningful sobriety.
Neuroscience and Addiction Treatment
Understanding how the brain reacts to addictive substances has helped substance abuse treatment centers design more effective programs.
Some of the elements of the most effective addiction treatment programs include:
- Experiential therapies
- Group therapy
- Medication-assisted treatment
In individual psychotherapy, clients in a treatment program work one-on-one with a therapist. During these sessions, they might work to understand the underlying causes of addiction, to work through past trauma, and to develop healthy coping skills. They’ll learn about addiction and the brain in these sessions and will find ways to manage cravings long-term.
Experiential therapies might involve yoga, meditation, art, and recreational outings. These are designed to help clients learn more about themselves and to give them a healthy outlet for stress. Addiction can take a physical toll, and rehab is a time to work on both inner and outer strength.
Group therapy can be invaluable in recovery. During these sessions, clients will discuss their experiences in sobriety and can support each other.
Finally, medication-assisted treatment is a highly effective way to assist those who are struggling with addictions to opioids or alcohol. Certain medications work to curb cravings and relieve withdrawal symptoms. While no medication can cure a substance use disorder, several, when used alongside behavioral therapy, can be helpful during the early days of recovery and beyond.
Maintaining Sobriety Long-Term
Since addiction is a chronic disease, it requires lifelong management. However, this shouldn’t keep anyone from seeking treatment. Many individuals have overcome substance abuse issues and have lived happy and healthy lives. Treatment can help you reverse addiction’s effects on the brain and take back control.
Many treatment centers offer assistance for clients as they transition back to everyday life. This could take the form of life skills training, which helps individuals relearn the skills they need to take care of responsibilities at work or at home. This could also include sober housing, where those in recovery live with other sober peers. Also known as recovery residences, this type of housing provides stability, support, and an extra layer of accountability.
Reach out to a treatment center near you today to learn more.
Contact Westwind Recovery® for Rehab in Los Angeles
At Westwind Recovery®, you’ll find comprehensive treatment for addiction. Our Los Angeles recovery center offers a safe, supportive environment where our clients take back their lives from drug and alcohol abuse. The neuroscience of addiction has helped our clinicians and therapists develop treatment programs that help our clients make lifelong changes.
We offer a wide range of therapies in our recovery center. These include:
- Family therapy program
- Medication-assisted treatment program
- Mental health treatment program
- TMS therapy program
- Trauma therapy program
- Virtual reality meditation therapy program
- Adventure therapy program
- Art therapy program
- Music therapy program
- Life skills training program
Learn more by reaching out to our team. Whether you are contacting us for yourself or for a loved one, our team members can help you access the care you need. We’re committed to helping all of those who struggle with substance abuse find hope and healing in our Los Angeles treatment center. Through personalized programs, our clients discover a life free from addiction.