Posted on September 1, 2008 in Alcohol and Drug Treatment

The Brain Chemistry of Addiction

Addiction to alcohol and drugs is a disease that can affect anyone, regardless of their race, age, socioeconomic status, or religious affiliation. The problem of substance addiction is so prevalent in our society, yet some people still have a slight reluctance to call such addiction a “disease.” Substance addiction and abuse has been officially recognized as a disease for many years now, but the public as a whole can waver in their ability to fully comprehend how addiction can be classified in this manner. Only by understanding it in this way will society be able to properly deal with those addicted to drugs and alcohol.

To understand how addiction can be classified as a disease, one needs a better understanding of the brain chemistry of addiction. Neurotransmitters are chemicals in the brain that relay, intensify and alter signals between neurons and other cells. When someone takes an addictive drug, whether it be alcohol, cocaine, nicotine, heroin, or Valium, just to name a few, the brain gets flooded with a neurotransmitter called dopamine. This neurotransmitter is related to feelings of pleasure and excitement, and is associated with the reward center of the brain. In a normal brain, dopamine is released when the person experiences pleasure. However, chronic use of addictive substances means that the brain begins producing less dopamine on its own since it’s so used to getting flooded with dopamine as a result of the addiction. This leads to the abuser being unable to experience pleasure from his normal life, thus creating a dependency on the drug to have happiness.

Addiction has to do with brain chemistry and is a physical problem more so than a psychological one. Some scientists maintain that the most critical part of recovering from addiction is the re-balancing of the person’s brain chemistry. Treatment and recovery centers can help with this, by letting people get the drug out of their system.

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