A new study in The New England Journal of Medicine shows that addiction changes the way our brain functions. Studying the prevention and treatment of addiction and public policy, the researchers agree that addiction is like a disease and not, as is often thought, something a person does voluntarily.
The study divides addiction into three stages which affect the brain. They affect a person’s behaviour and how they react to stress and how they are able to control some actions.
These stages are described as “binge and intoxication,” “withdrawal and negative affect,” and “preoccupation and anticipation.”
In the ‘binge and intoxication’ stage, Dopamine, a brain chemical that helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure receptors, may be released in response to the environment rather than the actual substance being abused.
In the ‘withdrawal and negative affect’ stage, the research shows that addiction works differently than commonly believed. Substance use triggers smaller increases in the dopamine levels when a person is addicted, so that they often become less motivated by everyday things like relationships and activities. Interestingly, although addicted, a person often cannot understand why they continue to use a substance, even when it is no longer pleasurable.
The ‘preoccupation and anticipation’ stage, involves the brain’s reward and emotional signals. Changes occurring in some parts of the brain impaire things like the ability to make decisions or take action. These changes are the reason that when a person wishes to take action about their addiction, they feel unable to.
This study helps to clarify some of the important issues about addiction and understand the way it affects you.
Importantly, it also supports research showing addiction as something emerging gradually and beginning during the risky time of adolescence. During Adolescence the brain is still developing and very sensitive to the effects of drugs, and is often why adolescents’ are more vulnerable to addiction.
At Retreat South, we understand those stages. Our treatment focus is on the entire addiction cycle to help empower yourself to deal with situations that trigger risk taking and addiction related behaviours.