Understanding Addiction: How Addiction Hijacks the Brain

By The Care Centers. Posted on Thu Mar 03 2016

What is addiction, and why is it so very difficult to overcome? The word itself can give you a clue as to the insidious nature of alcohol or substance addiction, as it comes from the Latin word for “enslaved by”. Addiction exerts such a hugely powerful influence on your brain that you can find yourself reaching for a drink, a pill bottle, or a needle even when you know the consequences are going to be terrible. So how does addiction get you to do things you’d never otherwise do in a million years? Essentially, it hijacks your brain in a three-step process.

Craving, Loss of Control and Continued Use
Basically, the process of addiction and the way it takes over your brain starts the difference between liking and wanting. When someone who is not an alcoholic orders a drink, they order it because they like it, not because they feel a strong urge or yearning to get it. When you go from enjoying alcohol responsibly to craving it, the next step is losing control of your use. If you’ve ever kept drinking beyond the point where you were drunk, or you’ve been unable to stop drinking for any reason, then you’ve experienced this. The final step is continuing to use alcohol even though you know that continued drinking will have adverse consequences.

Addiction and Your Brain’s Pleasure Center
Going from liking the occasional drink to craving alcohol, losing control, and continuing to use it, despite your own detriment, has to do with the brain’s reward functions. Basically, your brain registers all of the pleasures you feel in exactly the same way. Whether you kiss someone you like for the first time, get a raise at work, drink a shot of liquor, or take a psychoactive drug, your brain responds with the same reward system.

Tolerance and Craving
Unfortunately, unlike the endorphin rush you get from running a mile at top speed or the pleasure you get from kissing someone you love, your body builds up a tolerance to alcohol over time. Thus, to get the same reward that you once got from a single drink, you now need four or five drinks to get that pleasurable dopamine rush from your brain.

Physical Dependence
Unfortunately, at the same time, as you drink more and more on a regular basis, your body develops a physical dependence on alcohol. As a result, you have two things working against you and driving you deeper into addiction. Your brain is constantly looking for that dopamine rush, which now takes significantly more alcohol to get, and your body has developed both a tolerance for and a dependence on alcohol, making it nearly impossible to simply quit and walk away.

The Importance of Getting Help
Whether you feel uncomfortable without a drink in your hand, you simply cannot stop drinking once you’ve started, or you yearn for alcohol whenever it’s not available, quitting can be one of the most difficult things to do in your life. Fortunately, with help from a rehab facility, you can find the professional assistance and care you need to find your way out of addiction and reclaim control over your brain.

Tags: Mental Health