Using Science to Understand and Treat the Addicted Brain

Using Science to Understand the Addicted Brain

For years, people thought that those who struggle with addiction were lacking moral character or just didn’t have enough willpower to break the cycle of addiction. This opinion formed the stigma of addiction that is still evident today and fueled the war on drugs which places addicts in prison instead of treatment. Thankfully, scientists and researchers are working to destroy the negative stigma of addiction by proving that addiction is a disease that forms in the brain and results in addictive behaviors. Studying the addicted brain can help us understand why people from all walks of life are affected by addiction, and also give us clues as to how to treat it.

The function of the Addicted Brain

Researchers from the NIAAA have discovered that there are three key characteristics of the addicted brain that are not recognized in those that are not addicted to a substance. This finding helps us answer many of the questions that we have about addiction like how it is caused, why people may be susceptible to addiction, and how to go about treating addiction. These key factors of the addicted brain include:

Executive Functioning of the Addicted Brain: The frontal lobe, or the front section of your brain near the forehead, is responsible for many things. Paying attention, planning ahead for the future, self-consciousness, impulsivity, and organization. Evidence shows that the frontal lobe of the addicted brain responsible for these tasks is compromised. Addicts are not impulsive or neglect to plan for the future because they are incompetent or unwilling, but because the executive functioning of the addicted brain is off kilter.

Incentive Salience and the Addicted Brain: Have you ever made a decision that you knew was bad for you because you wanted to reap the rewards? Maybe you have eaten candy for breakfast or gambled your last $20 away and then wondered why you let yourself do it. Executive functioning should allow our brain to make the best decisions that we cognitively understand for ourselves. But incentive salience is when we decide to do something we understand is bad for us but do it anyway because of the reward. Drug addiction causes the brain to be overly sensitive to a substance, causing a heightened incentive salience in the addicted brain. Even though an individual may not want or like using a drug, their brain still triggers the reward system when the substance is recognized, making it harder to quit the cycle of addiction.

Negative Emotions of the Addicted Brain: One of the most common characteristics of the addicted brain recognized by scientists through evidence-based research is negative emotionality. Those addicted to a substance are more likely to react with a negative response (anger, fear, and anxiety) to stimuli that would not affect a nonaddicted brain the same way. In turn, these negative emotions cause those that are addicted to a substance more likely to use drugs to cope.

The Addicted Brain and Healing through Treatment

Traditionally, drug addiction treatment has only been successful for a low percentage of individuals who have sought help. This is thought to be the case because of the way that treatment was approached. Fortunately, the evidence to show that the addiction is, in fact, a disorder of the brain is presently helping us to determine new and innovative ways to treat addiction that is showing much promise. Holistic approaches and neurological biofeedback techniques are helping patients retrain their brains so that addiction can be healed in the area that is was developed; the addicted brain. The Wellness Retreat Recovery Center knows how important it is to embrace new methods in addiction treatment so that individuals who decide to seek help for their ailments can have a better chance at recovery success. Paired with traditional approaches like psychotherapy, medications, and 12 step programs, these new brain-based treatments are allowing for new hope in the recovery realm.

Get to know your Addicted Brain

If you are ready to learn more about how your brain is affected by the disease of addiction, treatment can help you! You are more apt to being able to understand and recognize the changes in your brain caused by addiction through the help of specialists in treatment. These specialists aim to help identify areas in life unexplainable by a lack of willpower so that retraining of the brain can begin. This retraining focuses on balancing the chemical components that may play a key factor in the behaviors transmitted by the addicted brain. To get started with treatment that is a comprehensive and in-depth approach to addiction, The Wellness Retreat Recovery Center is here for you. Please call us if you would like to speak to one of our admission specialists at 888-821-0238.