The Neurological Science Behind Substance Abuse Addiction

Substance use and abuse starts when an individual likes the way a particular substance makes them feel. For some of us, it’s possible to enjoy a drink or use a drug and never become hooked. Others cross a distinct threshold and transition into addiction.

A growing amount of research has shown that during this transitional phase into addiction, there are distinct changes that happen in the brain. Because of this evidence that clearly shows addiction is far more than just a character flaw, the science community now widely accepts that addiction should be categorized as a brain disease.

Dopamine And Addiction

Neurological Brain-Dopamine And AddictionThe human brain has evolved in such a way that we learn to survive based on a reward system. When we do things that support our survival, such as eat or exercise, our brain rewards this behavior by releasing a “feel good” chemical called dopamine. Because we enjoy the feeling when this chemical is released, we repeat these behaviors.

Along with the necessities of survival, there are also a variety of substances that affect the “reward center” of our brains. These include drugs and alcohol which release high levels of dopamine. In fact, the release of the chemical can be two to 10 times greater than what is normally released, producing a “high.” Users of these substances can develop a habit to sustain that positive feeling when dopamine is released. This can quickly turn into addiction.

This cycle is further propelled as the brain struggles to regain balance after the effect of a substance wears off. This struggle can produce symptoms of a hangover or withdrawal which can cause physical, mental and emotional pain. For the individual, the substance that is perpetuating the destructive cycle is many times used to combat this pain, further strengthening the addiction.

The Link Between Drug And Alcohol Abuse And Mental Illness

Of course, not everyone who drinks a glass of wine or takes a prescription painkiller will become an addict. Some individuals are more prone to developing an addiction than others. This further shows a connection between the brain and addiction. In those who have a mental health condition, such as anxiety or depression, the chance of developing an addiction is significantly higher. Often, drugs or alcohol are used to help numb the symptoms of mental illness.

According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, approximately 50 percent of individuals with severe mental disorders are also affected by substance abuse. And, 37 percent of alcohol abusers and 53 percent of drug abusers also have at least one serious mental illness. The link between addiction and mental illness is strong, and many who enter treatment discover they require treatment for both addiction and an underlying mental illness. This is why it’s so important to choose a recovery center that has expertise in dual diagnosis addiction treatment.

Are You Struggling With Addiction And Mental Illness?

Women Overlooking Lake-Struggling With Addiction And Mental Illness

You’re not alone. In fact, many people who have a mental illness also abuse alcohol and/or drugs. Don’t take chances with getting the help you need. At Summit Estate, we specialize in treating individuals who have dual diagnosis by treating both the addiction and the mental illness with a personalized treatment plan. Call us to speak with an addiction specialist now.

Learn More About Our Dual Diagnosis Treatment