From your temperature to your breathing, your brain controls your body. The brain processes stimulation and develops a response. Because of this, you laugh when something is funny or cry when something is sad. You become dependent on drugs when your brain absorbs this stimulation. Substance use disorders are progressive diseases that worsen without addiction treatment. Mental health counselors can help addicts through withdrawal and prevent future relapses by understanding how addiction affects the brain.

How Does Addiction Affect the Brain?

The Development of Addiction

There are many ways that alcohol affects the body. Alcohol and drugs enter the bloodstream when consumed. They enter the brain through the bloodstream. Different drugs affect the brain in different ways. Others provide stimulation, while others provide relaxation. The mood is determined by the limbic system of the brain, which is stimulated by certain substances. Feel-good chemicals are released into the body, compounding the high produced by the drugs. Positive experiences and activities are identified and motivated by structures in the brain. Dopamine is a naturally occurring chemical in the brain that releases in response to pleasure. Normally, it is released when eating tasty food or having sex. The brain confirms that these acts are enjoyable. The brain is then motivated to seek out this pleasure again. Dopamine is released by the brain when a pleasurable substance is introduced, confirming that the drug is pleasurable. In this way, the brain associates the substance as a good thing and becomes motivated to seek it out again. The cycle of addiction begins here. There are five stages of addiction.

How Addiction Effects the Brain

How Does the Brain React to Substance Abuse?

The Basal Ganglia

Drugs can damage the brain and affect life functions. As a result, the brain continues to drive addiction forward. Dopamine is produced through social interactions, eating, and sex. Although dopamine is released, these are considered “normal rewards” and do not affect the brain. The basal ganglia, which is the brain’s reward pathway, is affected by dopamine. Positive activities produce fewer reward chemicals in the brain than drugs do. Eventually, the brain produces fewer reward chemicals for normal behavior. It finds that they are less stimulating than those provided by drugs. Drug addicts become uninterested in activities they once enjoyed. Because the addict is less rewarded for normal activities, he turns to drugs for those rewards. Usually, this leads to increased use of the substance. The brain adapts to the large dopamine release, however, after repeated use of a drug. As tolerance for the drug increases, its effects diminish. If a person indulges, the brain will reduce the number of nerve receptors to accept it. Addicts take greater quantities of the drug to regain the high. As a result, the addiction deepens and can lead to an overdose.

The Extended Central Amygdala

Once the high fades, the amygdala causes feelings of anxiety and irritability. Addicts may also feel sick, similar to what they would feel during withdrawal. To avoid these symptoms, addicts will continue to use it. With heavy drug use, the reward pathway becomes delicate. High addicts get fewer rewards from getting high, but they still feel anxious and ill when they aren’t using. The drugs won’t get them high over time. As a result, the addict will use them to avoid feeling sick. Patients will need special care and detox to recover from this cycle.

The Brain Stem

The Prefrontal Cortex

The prefrontal cortex is the last part of the brain to mature. Through drug use, young people are at an elevated risk of damaging their prefrontal cortex. Decision-making and problem-solving, as well as impulse control, are managed by it. Attempting to find rewards or avoid illness, addicts use drugs compulsively. Over time, it weakens their impulse control and decision-making abilities.

The Brain Stem

The brain is not affected by all drugs in the same way. As with cocaine, opioids release dopamine, which can lead to addiction. Pain, anxiety, and respiratory distress are often treated with opioids. Specifically, they affect the brain’s pain pathways, which include the brain stem, spinal cord, and thalamus. Breathing, sleep, and heart rate is all controlled by the brain stem. Opioids slow respiration and lower blood pressure when abused. An overdose can completely stop breathing.

Establishing Triggers

Pleasurable experiences are remembered by the brain. Additionally, it creates links to that pleasure to remind you of it. When you use drugs with a person or in a place, your brain will associate them with a positive experience. A person who is around this person or is in the vicinity of this location can trigger a desire to use the drug if they are not using it. The brain cannot unlearn this reflex pattern. Those who haven’t used drugs in decades may not feel any cravings. Returning to a place where they used drugs, or seeing someone they used drugs with, can trigger a craving. You can prevent relapse by speaking to loved ones or a mental health counselor if it seems overwhelming.

What Are the Possible Causes of Addiction?


There are many causes of addiction, and some people are at a greater risk than others. 40% to 60% of addiction cases are caused by genetic predispositions. These genes can also be passed on to the next generation. Addiction is more likely to occur in those with a family history of it.


In addition to genetics, environmental factors play a role. Childhood experiences can affect the likelihood of addiction later in life.

Adolescent Experimentation

By the time they’re seniors, 70% of high school students have tried alcohol, and 50% have tried drugs. Teenagers’ willingness to experiment with drugs and alcohol is influenced by biological and environmental factors. The availability of drugs and peer pressure can also increase the likelihood of experimentation. Modern adolescents may also use social media to abuse substances. People who are already struggling can be triggered by seeing the happiness of people they see online. This can lead to depression and the desire to self-medicate with drugs. Teenage drug abuse is particularly dangerous since their brains are still developing. Discuss drugs honestly with them. Learn how to recognize the signs of abuse. You can also schedule an appointment with a mental health counselor. Together, you can prevent experimentation from becoming an addiction.

Adolescent Experimentation

Co-Occurring Conditions

An addiction to drugs can co-occur with a mental health disorder. It is possible for mental illness to trigger addiction or for one condition to trigger another. About half of people with addiction also have a mental health disorder. About half of people with mental health disorders are also addicted. Some people with mental health disorders self-medicate by using drugs. According to a recent study on opioid addiction, 81% of patients who began taking drugs to treat pain also suffered from depression or mood disorder. Opioids may relieve pain, but they often worsen the disorder.  Likewise, those suffering from an antisocial personality disorder, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia are more likely to become alcoholics. Keeping a healthy mindset can be crucial to avoiding addiction.

What Happens During Withdrawal?

The intensity of withdrawal symptoms will vary depending on the substance. Addicts will experience cravings during withdrawal. Due to the amygdala’s response to the substance’s absence, they will experience anxiety, irritability, and depression. Sweating will increase as the body releases the drug’s toxins. The brain affects the body, and the body affects the brain. When the brain lacks access to drugs, it sends pain signals through the central nervous system. For opioid users who used the drug to mask pain, withdrawal symptoms will bring the pain back. Rehab clinics offer medication-assisted withdrawal treatments and massage therapy to ease the pain.