Where Does Addiction Take Place in the Body?

Drug addiction is a chronic brain disease that causes a person to take drugs repeatedly, despite the harm they cause. Addiction is defined as a chronic recurrent disorder characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use despite adverse consequences. These changes can last a long time after a person has stopped taking drugs. The chemical compounds in stimulants, nicotine, opioids, alcohol, and sedatives enter the brain and bloodstream when used.

Once a chemical enters the brain, it can cause people to lose control of their impulses or to want to consume a harmful substance. Substance use disorders are the result of changes in the brain that can occur with repeated use of alcohol or drugs. The most serious expression of the disorder, addiction, is associated with changes in the function of the brain circuits involved in pleasure (the reward system), learning, stress, decision-making and self-control. Alcohol and drugs affect neurotransmitters and neural pathways in the brain.

At the same time, the brain strives to maintain balance. As a result, when drugs and alcohol change brain chemistry, the brain adapts. Over time, substance use disorder changes both the structure of the brain and how it works. Addiction happens in your brain and your body is ready for the journey. Everything that affects the brain affects the body because the brain is the control center.

When addiction takes hold of your brain, it focuses everything on the pleasure cycle. Knowing the effects of addiction can motivate a person to give up drugs or alcohol, however, physical changes in the brain make it very difficult for a person to stop using them, even if they want to. If you or a loved one is struggling with an addiction or substance use disorder, don't hesitate to ask for help. They can discover how to improve brain activity, reducing the effects of addiction and unhealthy impulses. The biological basis of addiction helps explain why people need much more than good intentions or willpower to end their addictions.

Studies show that people who don't seek treatment for their drug problems only have a life expectancy of 15 to 20 years after the start of their drug addiction. Addiction tends to be hereditary and to certain types of genes. Detoxification can take several days to several weeks, depending on the substance and how long a person has struggled with addiction. This allows people to get unique treatment, physical and psychological help, and a deeper understanding of their addiction. Opioids and cocaine are highly addictive, making it more difficult to reconfigure deep-seated neural circuits.

In addition to the effects of addiction on neurotransmitters in the brain and associated chemicals, the brain also changes physiologically. Researchers, doctors and addiction treatment professionals can use brain scanning technology to identify areas of the brain that have been altered by addiction. Researchers have studied several different ways in which the brain has adjusted to a “baseline” during and after addiction treatment.