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  • Writer's pictureChris Thompson

4 Ways Addiction Changes Your Brain



Your brain has been tuned over eons to seek pleasure and avoid pain. Part of the problem with addiction is the way in which it hijacks those systems in the brain that were originally designed to help us survive.


To understand it more specifically, let’s take a look at these 4 ways that addiction changes your brain. When you understand that better, you can understand why it can be so challenging to quit.


1. Substance Use Triggers an Outsized Reward Response


According to Yale Medicine, the reward system in your brain is a primitive system, the purpose of which is to reinforce behaviors that help you survive, like eating. It does that by triggering the reward pathways in the brain to activate a neurotransmitter known as dopamine.


Dopamine is a chemical that stimulates a euphoric response. In other words, you feel really good. The desire to keep feeling that way encourages you to engage in the behavior again.


When you become addicted, however, your reward system’s response is much stronger. The National Institute on Drug Abuse compares it to the difference between someone whispering in your ear and someone shouting through a bullhorn. In fact, the response is 10 times stronger than a natural reward for behaviors like eating.


2. Chronic Use Desensitizes the Brain to Dopamine


When you engage in chronic use of a substance, and you get that outsized pleasure response from the dopamine released by your brain, you start to become accustomed to that level of pleasure. Your brain actually adapts to become less sensitive to the effects of dopamine.


At the same time this is happening, your urge to use your substance of choice is increasing. You want that same level of pleasure every time, but it’s taking more and more of the substance to achieve it. That’s a bad combination that usually ends in you making bad choices.


3. Withdrawal Creates Anxiety


The part of your brain that plays a role in stressful feelings, such as anxiety, is called the extended amygdala. As the effects of your substance of choice fade, this part of your brain motivates you to get some more of that substance.


As you use more, however, the circuits in this part of the brain become more sensitive. As that happens, it changes your motivation for using your favorite substance. Instead of trying to ‘get high,’ now you’re just trying to alleviate feelings of anxiety and discomfort.


4. You Can’t Think Straight


The part of your brain that’s responsible for your ability to rationalize, plan, solve problems, make decisions, and exert self-control is called the prefrontal cortex. This part of the brain is the last part to mature, which makes teens more vulnerable to the damage done here by substance use.


Addiction to a substance overrides the circuits here in a way that seeking your substance of choice becomes a habit rather than something you logically choose to do. It becomes compulsive, and as a result, you experience a reduction in your impulse control and problem-solving abilities.


Sober Sidekick Can Help!


The ways addiction changes your brain make getting sober difficult without lots of support. Sober Sidekick is a social media platform and app that can do just that. There are more than 150,000 people in this community who understand just how difficult it is, and they can support you in your choice to get and stay sober. Join today, and you can begin the process of repairing the damage addiction causes in your brain.


Image: Freepik

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