Addiction is a topic that many people use almost without thinking in casual conversation. They may say that they are “addicted to” a particular food (chocolate comes to mind) or going to a new restaurant or activity. Using the word in this manner can be an indication that the person may have never experienced a loved one struggling with substance abuse or perhaps they don’t understand or believe that drug and alcohol addiction is a true disease.
It is. Disease is a disorder of structure or function, especially one that produces specific signs or symptoms.
Drug And Alcohol Addiction: A True Disease
The idea that drug and alcohol addiction is an indication of some type of moral flaw or lack of willpower on the part of the affected person is outdated and incorrect. No amount of punishment or willpower can “fix” someone who is addicted.
Research has shown that addiction IS a true chronic disease that changes the structure of an addict’s brain as well as the way that it functions. Heart disease damages this vital organ and diabetes causes harm to the eyes and kidneys. Addiction works in a similar manner to change an addict’s brain over time, and the compulsive behavior that drives addicts is linked to these changes.
The Brain’s Reward Center
The brain registers any type of pleasure that we experience in exactly the same manner. It doesn’t matter whether it comes from taking drugs, drinking alcohol, receiving a raise, buying something on sale, getting a hug or eating a tasty meal. Pleasure is registered in the brain by releasing dopamine, a neurotransmitter. Dopamine is called the brain’s “pleasure center” by neuroscientists.
Addictive drugs flood the brain with dopamine, releasing between two and 10 times the usual amount as natural rewards. Dopamine interacts with glutamate, another neurotransmitter, and takes over the brain’s reward-related learning system. The neurotransmitter is also linked to memory and learning.
How Tolerance Develops
For a person who becomes addicted, his or her brain receptors become overwhelmed and starts either producing less dopamine or actually starts eliminating dopamine receptors. At this point, an addict will discover that the drug doesn’t produce the same level of pleasure. They have developed a tolerance and must take more to take more to get the high they were experiencing previously.
Compulsion Comes Into Play
At this stage in the disease, compulsion comes into play. The pleasure of having used drugs or alcohol has subsided, but the memory of being high or inebriated and the need to have that experience again persists. The person experiences cravings for the drug of choice whenever cues associated with memories of obtaining and using are triggered.
Real Help Is Available At The Dunes East Hampton
With caring and professional customized drug and alcohol treatment at The Dunes East Hampton, someone who is addicted to drugs or alcohol can learn how to deal with their triggers and control cravings. Long-term sobriety is possible for people living with this chronic brain disease.