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How Addiction Changes the Brain & How You Think

Illustration showing effects of addiction on bran with the use of drugs, alcohol bottles, and needles.

Addiction can have an extremely powerful impact on the brain. As complex creatures that are affected by hormones and chemical reactions, understanding how the brain works with the effects of addition is important.

Even though it may be difficult, addiction can be treated. This treatment requires breaking down the addictive connections that have formed in the brain.

Keep reading to learn about how addiction changes the brain and how you think. 

The Science of Addiction

It may seem confusing why people who suffer from addiction do the things they do. However, the science behind addiction makes it quite clear – they’re trying to feel normal. 

Even though we as humans are incredibly advanced beings, our brains run on a simple reward-based system. The basic level of the rewards system in our brain is not able to separate the activities that bring us pleasure in life. This means something like enjoying your favourite meal and consuming a harmful substance would produce the same trigger in your brain. 

Addiction takes advantage of this system. When you experience this pleasure, your brain releases a chemical called dopamine, the feel-good chemical. When dopamine is released, your brain makes a connection between how you’re feeling and what you’re doing. 

This connection feeds into the cycle of addiction. Once the brain knows dopamine can be released from a certain activity, it wants to be rewarded and will begin to crave it. 

Developing Addiction 

With our brains being based on this reward system, they want the feeling of dopamine to be replicated. As this feeling is created artificially by a substance, the brain is not regulating the levels of dopamine properly.

Poor dopamine regulation can cause people to feel drained. Meaning the artificial release of dopamine by the substance is required to just feel normal again. This is how addiction is developed. 

Once addiction has been developed, it is difficult to break the connection between the release of dopamine and a substance. Your brain has been changed to believe the best way for dopamine to be released is through a substance. This is all caused by the brain’s reward system. 

Illustration showing who addiction harms, and how CDC can help

How Addiction Changes How You Think 

Once addiction has been developed, a clear change is made within a person’s brain. This change is because of the rewards system craving another reward through releasing dopamine. These changes can be dangerous to a person and those around them. 

When dealing with addiction, the brain can trick people into believing they need a certain substance to feel normal again. With this, people suffering from addiction will go to great lengths to achieve this feeling. 

The danger of addiction could include harming relationships with friends and family, risking finances, or even committing crimes. All of these actions could be never thought of by the individual before. Once the brain has been changed by addiction, less risk is considered because of the potential rewarding opportunity. 

How to Manage Addiction 

The journey of managing addiction is different for everyone. Working to control the changes that have occurred in the brain can take a different amount of time for each individual. During this process, we believe recovery involves the mind, body, and spirit. 

Human brain alongside a beer bottle and glass of alcohol.

The Mind 

When recovering from addiction, the mind will likely go through the biggest changes. It is important to remember this takes time and can be difficult. Rediscovering who you are outside of addiction can be one of the best ways to support the mind. 

The Body 

The body can also go through significant changes when recovering from addiction. To help support your journey, it is best to keep the body active and healthy with good meals. It is common for physical activity and proper nutrition to not be as important to those suffering from addiction. Taking time to look after your body can be an effective way to manage yourself during your recovery.   

Spirit 

At Calgary Dream Centre, we are a faith-based organization. We believe in having the community of the church and its spiritual mentorship. As we are looking to help individuals recover from addiction, we believe it is important to help them rediscover their values and love. Both of these can be found with the support of the church. 

We’re Here to Help 

Addiction is extremely powerful. The ways in which it changes the brain are physically and mentally harmful. 

If you or someone you know is suffering from addiction, please contact us

We believe everyone should have the proper care and support they need when dealing with addiction. 

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  • Written by Jim Moore

    CEO/Executive Director, Jim Moore is a founding member of the Calgary Dream Centre. His passion and drive to see lives changed has guided the organization to where it is today. Jim entered the non-profit world after many years of leadership in business, banking, real-estate, and church ministry. During that time he served on a number of boards and his career moved him across Canada from Vancouver to Toronto, and back to Calgary, where he helped found the Calgary Dream Centre. He was president of the Calgary Real Estate Board CREB, and past president of Canada Trust Real Estate Division Canada.

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