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An Addiction Psychiatrist Explains How Addiction Works
Research by addiction psychiatrists have disproven the common misconception that stopping an addiction is achieved through pure willpower and motivation. Many cases of substance abuse are caused by underlying psychological issues and may result in mental disorders. One of the most important discoveries of the field has been the recognition that addiction is a disease that alters the structure and functioning of the brain.
Damage to the brain
There are three key parts of the brain that are affected and cause the continuance of addictive behavior, despite the severity of social and physical consequences:
The basal ganglia is known as the reward center of the brain. When a drug is used, dopamine floods a specific portion called the nucleus accumbens. The memory of it is stored away in the hippocampus and creates a craving to experience the pleasure again. Taking a drug by smoking it or injecting it causes an even more intense and rapid release of dopamine, thereby increasing a want for repetition. The habit transforms into addiction.
The amygdala is wired for sensing fear and danger. It is what sends a person into the fight-or-flight response in the face of stress. Drugs can send this part of the brain into overdrive, and it compels the addict to use drugs as a way to subdue constant feelings of depression and anxiety.
The prefrontal cortex is the source of decision making and impulse control. Substance abuse has been found to damage this frontal portion of the brain. Because it is not fully developed in adolescents, children are more susceptible to addiction.
Drugs will begin to modify how the brain works by reducing the amount of neurotransmitters released or the number of receptors that receive them. This will make it harder for the user to experience the same initial high they felt, and tolerance is built up. Normal activities that are meant for survival and activate feelings of pleasure in the reward center of the brain—such as exercise or eating—no longer have the same effect; they can no longer release an adequate amount of neurotransmitters.
Addictive behavior becomes linked with the environment that it takes place in. This means that certain environmental cues that substance users associate with taking the drug will trigger the memory. New cravings will result, despite possible weeks or years of sobriety.
Psychotherapy with an addiction psychiatrist is often recommended for addicts due to probable psychological issues that they are concurrently dealing with. Commonplace causes are early trauma in one’s life, depression and stressful familial relationships. Because addiction is hereditary, family history may also be a reason that someone partakes in substance abuse.
The best way to treat addiction is through a combination of medication and therapy. Individual and group therapy is available, and both may be necessary in certain situations. It may take months or years depending on the patient. Although a difficult process, recovery is attainable.If you or a loved one is seeking an addiction psychiatrist, set up an appointment with a professional today.
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