Is Addiction A Brain Disease?
Drug addiction is a serious and complex problem that involves many factors. Scientific research confirms that drug addiction is a chronic, relapsing disease that directly affects the physical and psychological make-up of an addict. Drug addiction affects the behavior of an addict and reinforces addiction by turning actions into habits, and habits into compulsions. Drug addiction is the end result of a series of transitions that an addict initiates, and goes through, when they decide to abuse drugs.
Research seems to indicate that when a drug user begins to lose voluntary control over their behavior and starts to develop drug habits and compulsions, that something is happening in their brain. There appears to be a transition at the neural level of the prefrontal cortex. Research has now shown that the changes in the brain are long-lasting and undermine a drug addict’s voluntary behavioral control, and this contributes to drug addiction.
Reliable cues that predict happiness and rewards will trigger the thoughts and emotions of a person. Drug cues act in the same way on a drug addict, urging them toward drug abuse and relapse. This conditioning of the mind and emotions is reinforced when the drug addict responds to the cues. It is the same way when corporate ads and commercials use cues to invoke rewards if we buy their products. Human thoughts and behavior can very easily be controlled if we are caught unaware. A specific region of the prefrontal cortex, the orbitofrontal cortex, plays a critical role in the conditioned reinforcement of cues.
Genetic components may also play a role in drug addiction. The propensity to abuse drugs at the expense of the abuser’s health, social and personal life appeared to be characterized by maladaptive behavior. Recent discoveries of abnormalities, in fronto-striatel brain systems, were found present in stimulant drug dependent individuals. This is an area of the brain that is involved with self-control. The abnormalities were also found present in the drug addict’s siblings who had no history of drug abuse. These discoveries support the possibility of an underlying neuro-cognitive genetic factor involved with stimulant drug addiction.
Other studies were conducted on neurological processes involved in drug abuse and addiction. These studies sought to address the integrated processes of behavior, cognition and emotions that involve bingeing, intoxication, withdrawal and craving. The studies found that the prefrontal cortical area of the brain is activated in drug abuse subjects during intoxication, bingeing and craving. This area of the brain was deactivated during withdrawal. The prefrontal area of the brain is involved with motivational functions and cognition. The studies found that drug addiction affects cortically regulated cognition and emotional processes. These processes overvalue drug reinforcement and undervalue alternative reinforcement.
It has been shown that drug abuse and addiction change processes of the brain, and this fosters more abusive thoughts, emotions and behaviors. Involuntary compulsive drug abuse is difficult to overcome without the help of experienced and qualified medical professionals. Scientific advances in research have led to more effective drug treatment programs. Anyone with a drug abuse or addiction problem can received help through treatment programs that will help to alter the thoughts and behaviors of the addict. By combining medications with cognitive behavioral therapy, recovering drug addicts are able to counter the destructive effects of drug addiction.
If you or a loved one needs help with abuse and/or treatment, please call the White Sands Treatment Center at (877) 855-3470. Our addiction specialists can assess your recovery needs and help you get the addiction treatment that provides the best chance for your long-term recovery.