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The Biochemical Allure of Addiction

Many people trying to kick addiction feel shame at some level—for the behaviors that come with addiction and for letting their loved ones down. It helps to understand that addiction is a medical diagnosis just like other medical illnesses. It’s classified as a behavioral disorder because the biochemical malfunctions of the brain result in poor decision-making on the part of the addict. The victims of this illness need to receive treatment more than ostracizing or even incarceration, but an important factor in this is the addict’s ability to recognize his need for treatment at a drug or alcohol abuse rehab center.

There is a difference between abuse and dependency. Substance abuse involves a pattern of misusing some kind of substance to get high. Substance dependency occurs when the person’s pattern of use becomes so compulsively repetitive that he suffers withdrawal symptoms if he does not use.

The Dopamine Ping

Normally, the brain releases dopamine when we do satisfying things like eat and have sex.  For a regular person, the flow of dopamine means the experience of pleasure and a feeling of satisfaction. Then the neuron that sent the dopamine out reabsorbs it, a process called reuptake. That’s the end of the normal response.

Someone abusing alcohol or drugs, however, cannot break away from using substances even if he hits rock bottom because he is biochemically susceptible to those neurochemical responses.  The alcohol or drug stimulates increased production of dopamine and also serotonin, both of which contribute to positive moods and a general feeling of well-being.

For an addict, the normal dopamine cycle is disrupted by the drugs used. The drugs attach themselves to the dopamine neurons and prevent them from completing the reuptake process.  Other drugs, including stimulant medications, act on the brain to produce more dopamine. The dopamine keeps pinging the brain with little blasts of pleasure. The addict can’t resist it.

Over time, the drugs used affect the flow of dopamine. The brain becomes desensitized to the quantity of dopamine produced by the drug.  The person must use more of his drug—or a wider variety of drugs—in order to maintain the same pleasurable level of dopamine response.

The effect of the dopamine flooding the brain, mostly in the frontal lobe area, creates an endless cycle of pleasurable use that the addict can’t resist. Drugs also interrupt a person’s normal developmental progress and emotional functions. When someone begins using drugs or alcohol at a young age, their emotional maturity may be affected or even arrested beyond a point where it will ever return to normal.

The Curse of Cravings

It’s much more complicated than that, but you get the general idea.  An expert at an alcohol abuse rehab center can explain the process more fully, but this describes why some people fall victim to the medical diagnosis of addiction while others do not. That’s why the addict must manage his addiction for his entire life, like any other long-term medical illness.

Think of a person with diabetes. He can go to the doctor and get an explanation for the way his body processes insulin and find out what medication and diet he must follow to improve the process. But whatever the doctor prescribes, the diabetes will never go away; the person needs to manage it his entire life. It takes not only the diabetic but also his family members to aid in proper dietary management.

The same holds true for the addict.  Even as this is a disease that affects the whole family, it involves the whole family in the addict’s achievement of recovery. It takes instruction and therapy from a drug or alcohol abuse rehab center. For more information contact Vista Taos Renewal Center at 1.800.245.8267.

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COVID-19 update: The health and safety of our clients at Vista Taos is our top priority. Each person admitted to our program will be given a PCR Covid screen upon entry and subsequently will follow our isolation protocol as we await the results.
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