Addiction happens in the brain. It begins benignly, following the same path that encourages us to do all the important basic life activities we repeat every day, like eating when we are hungry or drinking when we are thirsty. Our brains are wired to repeat these activities by associating the activity with a feeling of pleasure or a reward.
The Brain’s Pleasure Center
Those pleasurable feelings are caused by the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine. Most abused drugs target the brain’s pleasure center, flooding it with dopamine which produces the feeling of euphoria drug and alcohol abusers seek. Here’s how the National Institute on Drug Abuse explains it:
“Whenever this reward circuit is activated, the brain notes that something important is happening that needs to be remembered, and teaches us to do it again and again, without thinking about it. Because drugs of abuse stimulate the same circuit, we learn to abuse drugs in the same way.”
Pleasure Turns to Addiction
Drugs usurp the body’s reward system by overwhelming it with up to 10 times the amount of dopamine released by natural rewards. The artificial rewards drugs produce can also last much longer than natural rewards. Given a choice, the brain chooses the activity that produces the greatest reward – drugs. The brain’s natural reward cycle motivates users to take drugs again and again and again, resulting in addiction.
The Road to Recovery
Drug and alcohol addiction cannot be cured, but they can be successfully treated. The road to recovery may be long and relapses are not uncommon; but with professional treatment and continuing support recovering alcoholics and drug addicts can live satisfying, productive, drug-free and alcohol-free lives.
The key to successful drug and alcohol addiction treatment is to choose an addiction recovery center that offers a full continuum of care that will treat and support the patient during every step of their journey to recovery while helping them develop the personal skills they will need to successfully transition to an addiction-free life.