Television ad campaigns in the late 1980s and early 1990s showed this vivid metaphor for understanding drug addiction: a person holding an egg said, “This is your brain.” The next frame showed the egg frying in a pan, with a voice-over saying, “This is your brain on drugs.” Make no mistake; drug abuse interferes with brain function, sometimes to the point of no return. Scientific research not only verifies the concept of addiction as a physical disease, but also proves that compulsive drug use affects those areas of the brain that regulate basic body functions.
The Addicted Brain Diminishes Communication Capabilities
The brain is a complex organ that communicates with the rest of the body. Neurons, neurotransmitters, receptors and transporters are all part of the vast communication system. Introducing drugs into the system causes interference, which results in the addicted brain with abnormal activity. With some drugs, this interference results in immense and immediate feelings of pleasure, but causes an overwhelming desire for repetition at the same time. This is one way the cycle of addiction begins.
The Addicted Brain Tricks Thinking Processes
Many drugs, particularly heroin and methamphetamine, create shortcuts in the brain’s ability to stimulate a pleasure response, which leads to cravings that rapidly spin out of control. No particular activity or event needs to occur in order for drugs to create a sudden rush of euphoria. Production of dopamine, which affects neurotransmitters and receptors, goes awry in the addicted brain. Soon enough, people who had no intention of abusing drugs go to any lengths to feed their habit. As increased drug use continues to affect the nervous system, symptoms of addiction occur. The longer individuals abuse drugs, the more likely they will be to cause permanent damage to their brains. Understanding the neuroscience of the addicted brain is key to understanding drug addiction. Marc Lewis, Ph.D., connects his personal experiences as a drug addict, his rocky path to recovery and his eventual study of neuroscience in his book Memoirs of an Addicted Brain.
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