Drug addiction or substance use disorder may be viewed as a conscious dilemma brought upon by negative choices. While the initial choices of using a substance can play a role, addiction is a complicated neurological disease with many scientific processes behind it.

Neurological Pathways

Through a variety of studies done in the neuroscience field, we have been able to discover new aspects of addiction and the effects substances can have on our neural pathways.

In our brains, our neurons use axon terminals to send information across a synapse, which is received by the dendrites of other neurons. This is how neurons communicate. When particular information is sent, that creates a new pathway in the brain through the release of a neurotransmitter.

When particular drugs are introduced to the body, they cause the release of specific neurotransmitters, including dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. The consistent use of substances changes the way our cells communicate with each other, leading our brain to believe the substance is a necessity.

It can be very helpful to understand how substances affect the creation of these neural pathways to help addiction set in. They can also worsen addiction this way; our bodies can get used to the effects of a substance, increasing our tolerance. This can be dangerous because it encourages us to use more to feel the same desired effects. When this cycle continues to occur, it strengthens the need for the substance.

Circuit of Reward

Our body works to reward positive behaviors by releasing chemicals that make us feel good. Unfortunately, using substances also releases these chemicals. The body is used to interpreting this chemical release as the result of positive action and is encouraged to repeat the behavior that caused it, regardless of the present or future harm it causes.

The more the body uses the substance, the more the body reinforces the reward circuit that activates when that substance is present. This can make quitting the use of a substance extremely difficult. On the flip side of the reward circuit, your body sends negative messages when feeling deprived of the substance.

This aspect of addiction can be extremely dangerous and hard to counteract, but your body’s ability to create reward circuits can also be used to your advantage. Implementing other rewarding habits such as healthy eating, exercise, meditation, or any other activity that contributes to a healthy lifestyle can be implemented to provide you with rewarding feelings. These acts do not often release the same amount of chemicals that substances induce, but they can help steer you in the right direction.

Behavioral Control

Initial use of a substance is often due to a choice we made. However, becoming addicted to the substance is something that cannot be controlled. By altering the frontal lobe, substance abuse alters the way we process thoughts. This greatly interrupts our ability to make decisions and process information. The effects of a substance also diminish our ability to control our behaviors and emotions and can cause long-term damage. This can make the act of quitting a substance and maintaining recovery very challenging.

Many individuals who do not deal with addiction firsthand believe that people who struggle to stop using substances simply lack self-control or self-care. There is often a lack of empathy because addiction is perceived to be a choice.

However, from initial use, substances can alter our ability to think rationally and make decisions. Continuing to use a substance is often not a choice we would like to make, but a behavior influenced by the neural pathways created by the effects of the substance in our brains. Understanding the chemical effects of substance abuse can help you get the help you need and help others understand the struggle of substance use disorder.

Influence of Genetics

The onset of addiction is sometimes a result of a substance interacting with a specific genetic structure, which increases an individual’s likelihood of developing an addiction. The history of your parents or other members of your family having an addiction can also psychologically predispose you toward addiction.

Being aware of your potential risk factors is important to ensure you are careful with your substance use and get help immediate if any signs of addiction begin to take place.

Using Science to Our Advantage

By furthering our scientific research on substance use and furthering our understanding of how addiction occurs and affects our brain, we can continue to improve our ability to help individuals recover. As research continues, we hope to develop a better understanding of the recovery process and hope to find a way to avoid the onset of addiction altogether.

Understanding the scientific effects of substance abuse can help your treatment team provide you with the care you need to recover. The biological influences of substances in the body can make recovery challenging, but understanding how they work can give you the tools to overcome them. This knowledge can be used to help you implement new healthy strategies to progress in your recovery.

The science behind addiction can help us understand the effects that substances have on the body and brain, which increases empathy for those in addiction recovery. Substances release a variety of chemicals and influence the structure of our brain by creating new neural pathways. Through this reward circuit, our body develops an addiction to these substances and continues to reinforce their use by rewarding the behavior. Addiction affects our prefrontal cortex, negatively impacting decision-making skills and thought processes. This can cause the act of quitting and working through recovery to be very challenging. Genetic factors may impact the severity of the addiction or the likelihood of it occurring. We can use this scientific knowledge to our advantage when we understand more about the process of addiction. To learn about the science behind addiction, reach out to Dream Recovery today at (949) 732-1960.

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