Addiction is a complex disease that can have significant effects on the brain and body. It can change the way the brain works, which is what controls the way a person thinks, feels, talks, and moves. On top of that, the brain controls the function of all the other organs in the body. These organs, such as the liver and kidneys, need to stay healthy in order to operate on a daily basis and are essential to survival.

The effects of addiction on the brain and body can be damaging in the long-term, so it’s important to get help if you or someone you know is suffering from drug or alcohol addiction.

Addiction and The Brain

The brain is a very important organ in the human body. The brain adapts to environmental changes and allows us to cope with negative emotions, form memories, and learn. But drug and alcohol addiction can drastically impact how the brain functions. The addicted brain changes both chemically and physiologically, but addiction effects start in the brain and then move onto the body. Alcohol first affects the area of the brain that controls judgment and reasoning, then moves onto the Cerebellum which is responsible for balance and coordination, and ​​the third thing alcohol affects is the Hypothalamus which regulates appetite, temperature, pain, and emotions. These are only three of the several parts affected.

Addiction can impact the brain on many levels and it’s important to understand the effects of addiction on the brain. So what does addiction do to the brain? When a person uses drugs, chemical compounds in stimulants, nicotine, opioids, alcohol, and sedatives enter the brain and bloodstream. Once one of these chemicals enters the brain, it can cause people to lose control of their impulses and/or crave the harmful substance- making them addicted.

A man feeling the effects of addiction on his body and brain.

Chemical Changes- The Biochemistry of Addiction

Beginning with the chemical changes addiction has on the brain, drugs, and alcohol affect the brain’s neurotransmitters, which release an excess level of dopamine causing temporary pleasurable feelings and euphoria. According to an article published by Harvard Medical School, How Addiction Hijacks the Brain, “Dopamine not only contributes to the experience of pleasure but also plays a role in learning and memory — two key elements in the transition from liking something to becoming addicted to it.”

Over time, the brain adapts in a way that actually makes the sought-after substance or activity less pleasurable. Eventually, it becomes increasingly difficult to get the release of more dopamine to feel the same pleasure. This makes a person want more drugs and alcohol with higher potency or more risky and addictive activities. The chemistry of addiction is complicated that once your brain has adapted to a substance you only want more. These chemical changes in the brain are one reason why substance abuse problems are so hard to stop, especially without treatment. 

Physiological Changes– How Does An Addict’s Brain Work?

On top of the effects of addiction on the brain’s neurotransmitters and associated chemicals, the brain also changes physiologically. “The brain actually changes with addiction, and it takes a good deal of work to get it back to its normal state. The more drugs or alcohol you’ve taken, the more disruptive it is to the brain,” said Dr. George Koob, director of NIH’s National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Drugs and alcohol affect the brain’s ability to form and store important memories. These substances also can cause irreversible brain damage.

There is a misconception that an addict can just turn away from their addiction- but this is further from the truth. When an individual gets addicted to a substance, the natural rewiring of the brain gets distorted through the influx of chemicals that are generated by the substance. Drugs or alcohol can start to control the pleasure/reward circuits in the brain, leaving the individual wanting more and more. As a result, when an addict tries to quit, the brain also sends emotional danger-sensing circuits. This leaves the addict wanting more of the substance to make them feel more secure and happy.

Retraining the Brain After Addiction

Even if people understand the changes and cycle of addiction effects and how these effects change the brain, they cannot stop on their own. The brain is dependent on drugs or alcohol, so a person needs to commit to recovery to change his or her lifestyle. When in treatment, a person’s brain needs to be re-trained to function normally, without toxic substances. It will take time for the brain to re-adjust to a sober, healthy lifestyle.

At Corner Canyon Health Centers, we focus on the Gut-Brain connection to restore adequate levels of serotonin and dopamine in the brain. It’s our top priority to heal the brain after someone has suffered from addiction.

Effects of Addiction on the Body

Beyond just the effect addiction has on the brain, when a person is addicted to drugs and alcohol the entire body is affected too. Drugs and alcohol affect major organ functions and with prolonged drug or alcohol addiction, permanent effects on vital systems and functions can lead to disability or even early death. The effects of addiction and chemical changes in the body can also carry over to physical changes. The physical effects of addiction are just as difficult as the effects on the brain.

Internal Effects of Addiction on the Body

Because of the effects addiction has on the body’s major organs, it can lead to heart disease, liver failure, some types of cancer, kidney failure, overdose, and even death. Drugs and alcohol can cause chronic heart problems and diseases that could result in heart attacks, high blood pressure, and an irregular heartbeat. These heart complications can be fatal. Addiction can also contribute to cirrhosis of the liver, cancer, and organ damage or failure. Drug and alcohol use also weakens the immune system, which can make a person prone to many diseases and viruses.

External Effects of Addiction on the Body

Addiction not only causes internal changes, but also physical changes in appearance. It can alter a person’s skin, hair, nails, weight, and teeth. Acne and skin lesions can be a common effect of addiction, as well as baldness or male pattern hair growth in women. Addiction can also cause jaw and teeth issues such as cavities and gum disease. When it comes to how substance abuse affects the body, these changes can cause struggles in day-to-day life, and it’s important to seek help if you’re struggling.

Fighting Addiction with Corner Canyon Health Centers

A woman standing free from her addiction that she was chained to

Knowing the effects of addiction can motivate a person to quit drugs or alcohol, however, the physical changes in the brain make it very difficult for a person to stop using even if they want to. It’s too easy to get pulled in by addiction and this is why healing the addicted brain is so important. Although there is no cure for addiction, there is treatment and hope for recovery. If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction or a substance use disorder, do not be afraid to ask for help. Save a life and get help today.

At Corner Canyon Health Centers, our doors are open to adult clients seeking healing and transformation to put their lives on the path of recovery. We understand the effects of addiction on the brain and body. Our residential treatment centers offers a warm and welcoming home environment paired with exceptional individualized clinical care utilizing the latest in scientific advancement for treating both mental health and addiction treatment. For information on our program contact us today. We can help you get the treatment you deserve and stop the effects of addiction in your life.

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Liz Lund, MPA

Liz is originally from lush green Washington State. She is a life enthusiast and a huge fan of people. Liz has always loved learning why people are the way they are. She moved to UT in 2013 and completed her bachelors degree in Psychology in 2016. After college Liz worked at a residential treatment center and found that she was not only passionate about people, but also administration. Liz is recently finished her MPA in April 2022. Liz loves serving people and is excited and looking forward to learning about; and from our clients here at Corner Canyon.
When Liz is not busy working she love being outdoors, eating ice cream, taking naps, and spending time with her precious baby girl and sweet husband.