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Treating Addiction as a Brain Disease

Scientific research clearly indicates a the proper combination of addiction treatment medications, with evidenced based behavioral therapy is the best way to ensure success for the majority of people addicted to drugs and or alcohol. Individual treatment plans tailored to address each patient’s drug abuse patterns and co-occurring medical, psychiatric, and social problems can lead to sustained recovery and a life without drug and or alcohol abuse.

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addiction is a complex brain disease characterized by compulsive, at times uncontrollable, drug craving, seeking, and use that persist despite potentially devastating consequences. What if I were to tell you that your addiction stems from a disease in your brain that causes a distortion of cognitive and emotional functioning, which creates a compulsion for you to use drugs or alcohol? If you knew your addiction was because of a brain disease, instead of a lack of self-control, would that change the way you view yourself and your addiction?

Both the American Medical Association (AMA) and the World Health Organization (WHO) both consider alcoholism and drug addiction diseases.

treating alcohol and drug abuse as brain diseases – PDF

For years, people have been lead to believe that drug and alcohol addictions are due to a variety of factors including; a lack of self-control, a lack of integrity, and low moral fiber. Because of these conclusions, many drug and alcohol addicts have been negatively stigmatized in our culture, which has forced them to carry around tremendous guilt and shame because of their addictions. This feeling of guilt and self-contempt is often one of the biggest reasons why struggling drug addicts don’t seek out the treatment they need that could potentially save their lives. However, as more scientists and treatment specialists begin to study the causes of addiction and the way drugs and alcohol affect our bodies, especially our brains, they are reaching entirely different conclusions.

Scientific advances in researching addiction has offered remarkable insights in the last few decades into how the brain functions and molds behaviors that can affect drug addiction. As this research continues to advance, many scientists and treatment specialists are now defining addiction as a chronic brain disease that has more to do with the neurology of the brain, than outward and behavioral manifestations, as was previously thought.

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How Alcoholism and Addiction Affects the Brain

addiction alcoholism brain diseasesAddiction to drugs or alcohol can negatively affect the brain’s reward, memory, motivation, and circuitry structure and can trigger a biological and behavioral response to continually engage in destructive, addictive behavior. Because addiction affects the frontal cortex of the brain, which is in charge of impulse control, certain drugs can trigger a biological response to engage in these behaviors over and over again, regardless of the potential harm it is doing to the individual. This can create specific characteristics that many addicts face including:

• The inability to abstain from drugs or alcohol
• A lack of behavioral control
• Increased cravings for drugs or alcohol
• An altered or dysfunctional emotional response
• Increased anxiety, paranoia, and depression
• Continued use of drugs or alcohol regardless of any physical or psychological consequences

Impacting the Brain’s Reward Centers

One thing scientists do know is that prolonged use of drugs and alcohol can negatively alter the brain’s reward centers, or limpid system. One way the brain works to help aid survival is by rewarding certain essential behaviors liking eating, sleeping, and exercising with the release of dopamine, the chemical that reduces pain and gives off the feeling of pleasure and euphoria. However, because certain substances, like drugs and alcohol, can cause a high, automatic release of dopamine, up to 2-10 times the normal amount, this can ultimately wreak havoc on the brain’s reward center functioning over the long term.

Because the amount of dopamine released is so much larger than is normally produced, the reason why users feel a sense of rush or euphoria when using drugs, the brain often struggles to regain its normal chemical balance after the drug wears off. With prolonged use, the brain will begin to become dependent on these substances for the creation of dopamine and stop creating as much of it on its own. When the individual has stopped taking the drug over a few days this dependency can create excruciating withdrawal symptoms, which can lead to depression, physical pain, and dangerous behavior.

When It’s Time to Get Help

Just like how an individual suffering a heart ailment or broken leg would seek out treatment and therapy for their health problem, people struggling with addiction need to take the same approach. Would a person with diabetes be in denial about their health problem and refuse to seek out the treatment they need to save their life? Instead of blaming yourself and others for your addiction to drugs and alcohol, you need to realize that it really isn’t your fault. Your addiction stems from a disease of the brain that can only be treated with the right medicine, counseling, and therapy. Don’t go one more day blaming yourself for your drug or alcohol addiction and speak with a treatment specialist right away.

 

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