Addiction hijacks the brain: Here’s how

Once humans develop an addiction, their brain becomes rewired to use drugs in spite of the risks and consequences. Addiction has such a long and powerful effect on the brain that it becomes a constant, even recurring struggle that requires an effective treatment plan, according to neuroengineer Dr. Curtis Cripe.

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This influence on the brain manifests in different ways, mainly the craving for the object of your addiction, losing control over its use, and persistent involvement with the object amid negative consequences. From previous decades when people first thought that people with addictions were morally flawed or lacked willpower, addiction is now recognized as a chronic disease affecting both the structure and function of the brain.

When it comes to the pleasure principle, addictive drugs and substances offer a shortcut to the brain’s reward system, flooding the nucleus accumbens with dopamine and other neurotransmitters. The probability that the use of a drug will lead to addiction depends on the speed of promoting dopamine release, as well as the intensity and dependability of such release. Smoking or intravenous administration, for instance, generally produces a quicker dopamine signal and is more likely to lead to drug abuse compared to swallowing a pill.

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Over time, too, the brain can adapt in a way that makes the desired substance or activity less pleasurable. This leads to building a tolerance, where a person then has to take more of the object of his addiction to get the same dopamine “high,” explained Dr. Curtis Cripe.

The human brain is a complex organ that controls voluntary and involuntary actions alike. It is highly adaptive, which unfortunately also contributes to the formation of addictive behaviors. Since addiction is “learned” and stored in this dynamic organ as memory, recovery becomes a long, slow process.

Dr. Curtis Cripe is a neuroengineer with diverse multidisciplinary background that includes software development, bioengineering, addiction recovery, psychophysiology, psychology, brain injury, and child neurodevelopment. For similar posts, visit this page.

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