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How Addiction Affects the Brain

In order to help people with addictions, it’s important to understand what addiction is, how it works, and why people become and stay addicted to substances. A good way to understand addiction is to understand the effects it has on the addict’s brain. By understanding addiction in that way, people will have a stronger foundation they can use to help addicts break the addiction and stay sober.

How The Brain Works

The brain is the communication center of the body. It uses electrical impulses to transmit information and messages throughout the body using the central nervous system. Some of these messages help with daily living, like telling the heart to beat or the lungs to breathe, while other messages help people live their lives, like when to walk and how to speak.

The brain also helps shape who people are as individuals. The way the brain communicates with the body and helps the person process information shapes that person’s personality.

How Addictions Develop

Along with messages, the body conditions the body for certain behaviors. Things people like will release chemicals that make them feel good, which means they’re more likely to want to do them. For example, many people get what is called a “runner’s high.” When they run or exercise, the brain floods the body with dopamine, which makes them feel good. This is the brain’s reward system. Its technical name is the limbic system, and it’s responsible for pleasurable feelings from the brain.

When people use an addictive substance, the brain releases the chemicals to make the person feel good. The person then becomes addicted to those good feelings and keeps using the substance to get them. Some substances are designed to release those good feelings because of the way the substance interacts with the brain’s natural systems. These are the kinds of substances generally thought to be addictive in nature. However, even substances not designed to be addictive can release those feel-good chemicals in the brain, which can lead to addiction.

Addiction Effects On The Brain

Dopamine, which is the feel-good chemical in your brain, is a natural chemical. The body produces it naturally and uses it as part of the limbic system. Typically, there is a set range of dopamine that’s normal for the body. When someone uses an addictive substance, that substance floods the brain with dopamine levels much higher than normal. Not only do users get addicted to the good feelings that come from the flood of dopamine but it changes the brain’s chemistry.

When people begin using addictive substances for the extra dopamine, the body begins to compensate by reducing the amount of dopamine it creates naturally. Instead, the brain starts to rely on the artificial dopamine from the substance or the flood of dopamine it creates in high levels whenever the substance is used. That means that, when the substance is not being used, the brain does not have normal levels of dopamine. When the body doesn’t have these levels of dopamine, it can change the way the brain processes stimuli and interacts with other people and the world. That’s why it seems that addicts’ personalities change once they become addicted to substances. Their brains are working differently because of the chemical effects of the substances.

Why People Stay Addicted

The reason people stay addicted is because of addiction effects on the brain. There are two main components that contribute to ongoing addiction.

First, when people use substances to flood their systems with dopamine, they begin to crave that feeling. But the more an addict uses the substance, the more the brain and body get used to the changes it makes on the body. That means the person needs higher levels of the substance to get the results he or she wants.

Second, because addictive substances reduce the amount of dopamine naturally created by the brain, addicts find that they have to keep using the substance to get any good feeling. Since the body’s natural dopamine levels are low for addicts, they start to feel worse and worse the longer they are addicted to a substance. As a result, they have to start using the substance to attain a basic level of functioning rather than to feel good. They stay addicted to the substance just so they don’t feel bad.

The purpose of addictive substances is to alter the way the brain works so that the user stays addicted. However, because of the way the brain is affected, the addict has to keep using more and more of the substance to get the same effects. This is one of the many reasons people stay addicted. By understanding this effect on the brain, loved ones can have a better foundation for helping an individual to break the addiction cycle and start a journey to sober living.


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Will my insurance cover treatment for addiction?

The Detox Center of L.A. accepts most major insurance providers and private healthcare policies. We offer free insurance verification as well as eligibility and benefits for both behavioral and mental health treatment services. Please fill out our insurance verification form here to verify your insurance.

What happens in addiction

Effective addiction treatment programs are tailored to each individual. Because of this, it will be a different experience for everyone. However, it generally involves a combination of detoxification, group and individual therapy, educational presentations, and aftercare planning in order to ensure long-term recovery. Upon arrival at The Detox Center of L.A., you can expect our professionally trained staff to create an individualized treatment plan based on your needs and treatment goals.