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Opioid Abuse Changes the Brain of an Addict

Doctors are pushing for more education on addiction and how it rewires an addict’s brain. Dr. Anderson Spickard, an experienced addictionologist who has been working in the field for more than 45 years, recently told The Daily Caller News that he had difficulty believing that out of all the patients he had treated over the years, they simply could not stop on their own. He went on to explain that addiction is a disease that, “tells you that you don’t have it, so you don’t admit it. You can’t admit it.”

Drug Dependency and Neural Pathways

Over time, addiction changes the way an addict thinks. The person comes to associate being happy with using their drug of choice. The addiction takes over their ability to form rational thoughts and make decisions.

On a chemical level, an addict’s substance abuse leads to the brain releasing large amounts of dopamine into their system. This makes them feel euphoric, and is the source of the “high” associated with drug use. As the addiction takes hold and becomes even stronger, the urge to get high becomes an even more driving force for the addict. It can even overpower basic human instincts like caring for children.

The dopamine hijacks the addicts brain and makes the person unable to stop using drugs. This neurotransmitter is so powerful that it influences the frontal part of the brain where we make executive decisions, along with the hippocampus where we store our memories and the middle of the brain where the nucleus is located. The denial, anger and behaviors associated with drug and alcohol abuse are run by this brain chemical.

This process is explained in much more detail in Spickard’s book The Craving Brain (pictured).

The Pathology of Addiction

Some people have difficulty with the idea that addiction is a brain disease because it starts with an initial decision by a person to start using drugs or alcohol. While someone may have initially voluntarily started using a substance, no one wants to end up with a disease that leads to repeated, uncontrollable cravings for a substance that takes away their free will. This is the condition doctors and researchers describe as the disease of addiction.

Researchers now recommend long-term treatment as being an appropriate approach for dealing with the addicted brain. An initial treatment period of at least 30 days, in addition to follow-up care can help to establish good memories related to sobriety and help an addict stay on the road to permanent sobriety.