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How Does Addiction Work?


Addiction is a complex and potentially life-threatening psychological and physical condition. It can be effectively treated when the underlying causes are identified and addressed. Some may ask, what exactly is addiction and how does it work? In this blog post, we'll explore the science behind addiction, its causes, symptoms, and more. By better understanding its inner workings, we can help those struggling with addiction get the support they need for long-term recovery.

What Is Addiction?

The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) defines addiction as a treatable, but chronic, disease that involves a multifaceted interaction between the brain, genetics, environment, and a person’s life experiences. People with addiction use substances or engage in behaviors that have harmful consequences due to compulsion.

What Causes Addiction?

While experts have yet to identify exactly what causes addiction, research suggests that individual risk factors can play a role. Each person’s risk of addiction ranges and depends on variables including genetics and environment. However, some people are predisposed to addiction and the possibility of misusing substances or developing an addiction increases significantly.

Risk factors for addiction may include:

  • Parental neglect
  • Drug and substance experimentation
  • Access to drugs at school
  • Poverty
  • Peer pressure
  • Parents with addiction

How Addiction Affects Your Brain

Addiction has a lot to do with brain chemistry. Humans have a neurotransmitter called dopamine that is released when we do something pleasurable. For example, eating and exercising can be times when dopamine is released. It makes people feel good and teaches a person to repeat the behavior that resulted in that feeling, otherwise known as the reward system. This is the process where the brain associates stimuli such as situations, substances, or activities with a positive outcome. Therefore, when a person uses a substance and experiences a pleasant or euphoric feeling, they may develop an addiction.

Over time, consistent drug use limits a person’s capacity to feel pleasure due to smaller dopamine releases. As a result, in order for the brain to receive more feelings of pleasure and enjoyment, more of the substance is required.

Addiction Can Cause Brain Changes

As a person’s brain adapts to substance use, different regions of the brain are affected which results in behavior changes. The brain regions responsible for judgment, decision-making, learning, and memory begin to change. These physical changes to the brain can help explain the compulsive and destructive behaviors associated with addiction.

Aside from brain changes, addiction can also create powerful, constant, and distracting cravings. As a person becomes more addicted, the activity or substance they are addicted to becomes more important as time continues. As a result, previously important activities take a back seat. A common sign this pattern is occurring is when a person’s addiction causes their health, family, work, and other daily activities to suffer.

Withdrawal Symptoms in Addicts

When a person tries to end their addiction or is in a situation where they have no access to the addictive substance, they begin to experience withdrawals. Withdrawals are the physiological responses to the sudden quitting or slowing of use of a substance a person’s body has become dependent on. This process may include various combinations of physical, mental, and emotional symptoms. In certain situations, these symptoms can be dangerous for the individual and those around them if left unmanaged.

Symptoms of withdrawal may include the following:

  • Trembling
  • Muscle pain
  • Fatigue
  • Sweating
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Nausea
  • Confusion
  • Paranoia
  • Dilated pupils

Withdrawal symptoms are unfortunately a common side effect of substance dependency. When those who become heavily reliant on drugs or alcohol decide to make the difficult decision to quit abruptly or to significantly cut back on their use, their bodies will start to attempt to reach a new equilibrium free from the effects of the drug.

Although rare, withdrawal can sometimes be severe or even lethal. For example, severe alcohol withdrawal can sometimes result in delirium tremens. It can occur as early as 48 hours after a person who chronically abuses quits abruptly. Delirium tremens can last up to five days and if not properly managed, it can progress to seizures and death.

If you are experiencing withdrawal symptoms that are beginning to escalate to a severe level, seek medical help immediately.

How The Carter Treatment Center Can Help You

As hopeless as addiction can sometimes feel, there is hope and help available. Drug and alcohol addiction can be difficult to cope with, for both the individual afflicted and the family members that love them. At The Carter Treatment Center, we understand how difficult navigating this kind of disorder can be, which is why we are dedicated to providing care for our patients. We strive to go beyond traditional treatment methods by integrating alternative therapies, family programs, and more to fit each patient’s unique situation.

Additionally, we believe everyone is deserving of help. We understand treatment can come with a financial burden; for this reason, The Carter Treatment Center offers financing options for those in need of assistance. Our team truly cares for each of our patient’s recovery journeys and is here to support them every step of the way.

Call today at (678) 737-4430 or fill out our online form to learn more about how we can help.