There are many ways in which drug addiction can affect your health. It is responsible for various physical illnesses, but when considering the effects that it can have, it is important to think about what drug addiction does to the brain. Experts have found that chemical substances such as drugs can have a profound effect on the mind and the body of those taking the substances; in fact, it can result in structural changes to the brain itself.

How Did You Become Addicted?

Most people ask themselves how they got to this point when realising that they have any type of addiction. This is an illness that does not occur overnight, but most affected individuals do not notice the subtle changes that are happening. It is only upon the realisation that they have a big problem do they start to look back at their changing habits.

In the beginning, it may have been that drugs made you feel good. Maybe you took them for recreational purposes or because you were trying to block out certain emotions or painful memories. Whatever the reason, initially drugs probably provided you with temporary relief. However, over time, the relief you experienced diminishes, and as the chemicals you are taking start to influence various functions within your body, you may notice health problems start to manifest. What drug addiction does to the brain is astounding. This is why addiction is recognised as an illness of the brain and not a lifestyle choice or a consequence of bad behaviour, which is what many people believe.

What Addiction Does to Your Brain

When you started to take drugs, you obviously had the choice to do so. You could choose when to take them and when to not. You also had control over the amount you were taking and when you could stop. Nevertheless, as time went by, and with continued regular abuse of these chemicals, the amount of choice and control you had started to decrease. The changes that these chemicals caused in your brain made it almost impossible for you to make good decisions.

Despite what most people believe, you do not continue using drugs because you are weak or because you have no willpower. You have a chronic illness of the brain that has affected your ability to stop taking these substances.

The brain works by passing messages from neurons (nerve cells) to other parts of the body. These messages travel in the form of electrical impulses from one neuron to another across what are known as synapses, effectively gaps between the neurons. Everything that you do, from breathing to thinking to eating, is directed by the billions of nerve cells in your brain.

In order for electrical impulses to travel across the synapses in the brain, neurotransmitters are required. Various neurotransmitters are released by the brain as and when necessary, depending on the message being delivered. A type of neurotransmitter that is released by the brain to induce feelings of pleasure is called dopamine. Dopamine is also known as a feel-good chemical and is responsible for the rush of pleasure that individuals experience when taking drugs, particularly for the first time.

While dopamine is responsible for making people feel happy, it is also used as part of the brain’s reward system. So it is released whenever you do something that is good for you. For example, when you eat good food, you will feel a sense of pleasure. These feelings of pleasure that you get from eating good food are meant to encourage you to do this again and again. It is the same with other life-sustaining things.

Nonetheless, in some individuals, substances such as drugs can hijack the reward system in the brain and can result in the person experiencing intense feelings of pleasure due to enormous amounts of dopamine being released. These intense pleasurable feelings can make the individual want to take more drugs as soon as possible.

Over time, the chemicals in the drugs can result in structural changes to the brain. Damage is often caused to specific areas, which can make it difficult for certain neurons to interact with neurotransmitters. Some neural pathways and neurons can be permanently changed or damaged. One area of the brain that tends to suffer the most because of addiction is the frontal lobe, which is responsible for good judgement and decision making.

Can the Brain Recover after Addiction?

When studying what drug addiction does to the brain, scientists discovered that the same processes that cause changes to the brain during addiction can occur during recovery. So with a recovery plan, it is possible for the brain to heal and repair itself.

The brain can be altered during recovery, just as it was altered during addiction. It is important to remember that this will take time, in the same way that changes during addition did not occur overnight.

Sticking to a good recovery plan will allow your brain to heal; after a while, staying clean and sober will become natural to you. Eventually, you will no longer be struggling to stay away from drugs because your brain will have altered once more, but this time in a positive way.

What Happens During Detox and Rehabilitation

Overcoming addiction is a process that for most individuals involves a programme of detoxification, followed by rehabilitation. Detox is the process that deals with the physical aspect of the illness. It is designed to help break the bond between the user and the substance he or she had been abusing.

Detox programmes typically last for between one and two weeks. It begins when you stop taking drugs, and once the body realises that no more drugs are arriving, it will start the healing process naturally. It does this by expelling any remaining chemicals and restoring functions that were affected by the drug use.

It is normal to experience a range of withdrawal symptoms during a medical detox. For most people, these symptoms will be mild to moderate in intensity, but some will experience more severe symptoms. In a detox clinic, the worst symptoms can often be prevented or eased with medication, if this is appropriate.

Once detox is finished, the real work begins; it is during this phase of rehabilitation that the brain can really start the healing process. The brain must learn how to live without drugs, which is done using various techniques that can include:

  • individual counselling
  • cognitive behavioural therapy
  • dialectic behavioural therapy
  • group therapy sessions
  • 12-step work
  • contingency management
  • motivational interviewing.

Professional counsellors and therapists will work with you to help you explore your past and identify what caused your addiction in the first place. Through the use of the above techniques, they will help you to learn specific coping strategies that will help you to avoid a return to your addiction in the future.

It is important that you learn various ways of thinking in order to allow your brain to rewire itself around your recovery. By learning ways of positive thinking, your brain will be able to create new pathways to replace those that were damaged.

Studies have shown that with positive thoughts and actions, you can encourage your brain to grow new neurons, create new connections between neurons, strengthen existing neural connections and restore the production of neurotransmitters.

If you would like more information about what drug addiction does to your brain or if you are interested in finding out about a programme of detox or rehabilitation for yourself or a loved one, please contact us here at Oasis Bradford.

Our programmes are designed to help you overcome your drug addiction once and for all. With a team of fully trained staff members on hand to provide help and support every step of the way, you can put your drug use behind you for good. Please call today for more information about who we are and how we can help you.