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.
Addiction can impact the brain on many levels. 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.
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. 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 and how it changes 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 function 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 on the body can also carry over to physical changes.
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.
Fighting Addiction with Corner Canyon Health Centers
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. Although there is no cure for addiction, there is treatment and hope in 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, 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 center 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.
Cheryl has a 24-year history of founding and managing treatment programs for adolescents, in addition to providing therapy for them and is now excited to work with adults at Corner Canyon Health Centers. Her own treatment experiences informed the development and implementation of the foundational components of Corner Canyon, and she looks forward to directing a program that meets all the expectations she had while in treatment and includes all the therapeutic practices that she has found to be effective throughout her career.
In 1998 Cheryl co-founded Second Nature Wilderness Program, which grew to be the largest private wilderness therapeutic program in the United States and included 5 separate locations. Cheryl also helped found Gateway Academy, a pre-eminent residential treatment program for adolescent boys, and looks forward to working with the Gateway Academy owners at Corner Canyon.
In 2003, Cheryl was elected by her colleagues throughout the United States to serve as a board member for the National Association for Therapeutic Schools and Programs. Cheryl works clinically with addiction, mood disorders, anxiety, trauma, family systems problems, and other co-occurring issues. She loves working with clients the most out of all the different roles she has played. Cheryl completed her education at Brigham Young University where she received her Bachelor of Science in Psychology and Sociology in 1991 and her Master’s Degree in Social Work in 1993. Her clinical training included CBT, DBT, Motivational Interviewing, Assertive Communication, and providing individual, family, group therapy and marriage counseling.
Cheryl is the oldest of ten children and has two adult children, a daughter and a son. Her interests include water sports, photography, interior design, household projects, and spending time with her family and friends. She loves house boating on Lake Powell, but her favorite pastime is spending time with her 5 wonderful grandchildren.