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Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction

A better understanding of addiction has made it easier to connect drug use with its impact on the brain and human behavior. By identifying risk factors and the circumstances that lead to compulsive substance use, drug and alcohol rehabilitation can better target an individual’s needs. People take drugs to feel pleasure, energy, and confidence. Those with depression, stress, and anxiety do so to feel more relaxed. Some drugs help improve physical or cognitive performance, while peer pressure is often a factor for teens.

The Brain’s Response to Drugs

The science behind drug addiction lies in the brain. Drugs alter brain chemistry to make you feel a certain way. Long-term drug abuse can cause the brain to become dependent on a substance to function. In general, drugs either slow down or speed up the central nervous system, which includes the brain and spinal cord.

What affects the brain impacts the core body functions it controls. Drug use can, therefore, cause changes in the heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration. It can also disrupt the processing of sensory information and the regulation of body temperature.

Drugs have a direct impact on neurotransmitters, including dopamine, serotonin, and gamma-aminobutyric acid or GABA (a chemical that slows things down and reduces anxiety). Norepinephrine (a stress hormone) can also be affected. Depending on the drug used, the function of neurotransmitters can be inhibited, enhanced, or mimicked, which disrupts communication between neurons and reduces the brain’s ability to regulate these chemicals on its own.

What Factors Lead to Addiction?

The science behind drugs also focuses on how addiction occurs. The two general factors leading to addiction are:

  • Environmental: Drug/alcohol use and substance-seeking behavior are often influenced by people in your social group. Traumatic events early in one’s life can trigger substance abuse problems later. People may also be influenced by social media, television shows, movies, and video games. Cultural and religious triggers or learned environments where bad habits are nurtured—such as drinking at a pub after work or even in your own kitchen—can contribute to addiction.
  • Genetic: For some people, genes make them more or less vulnerable to drug or alcohol addiction. Scientific studies have found genetic variations can influence one’s preferences for a particular substance or make them more vulnerable to extreme withdrawal symptoms and, therefore, more likely to need drug detoxification treatment. While scientists have found genetics accounts for 40% to 60% of the risk, there is no single gene associated with substance use.1

How Addiction Affects Behavior over Time

Long-term drug abuse impairs self-control and affects decision-making, judgment, memory, and learning. Individuals may act on intense drug-seeking impulses, engage in behavior that spreads infectious diseases, and behave in a manner that harms their personal relationships. The prefrontal cortex, which develops during adolescence and well into adulthood, is especially vulnerable, so drug use at an early age can have more drastic and long-lasting effects.

Holistic and 12-Step Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation

If you or a loved one is facing drug or alcohol addiction, Adelante Recovery Center can help. One of the finest substance abuse treatment centers in Orange County CA, we offer drug and alcohol detox, residential inpatient, and dual-diagnosis programs with a multi-faceted approach to treating addiction and co-occurring disorders. To learn more about our programs, rehab services, and admissions process, continue browsing or call 949-427-9099.

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Adelante Recovery Center is here to help those that are battling drug and alcohol addiction. We are located in beautiful southern California and welcome those from across the country.

Contact us today to learn more about our treatment programs and how we can help you today. We accept private insurance.

We want to help. Contact us today.

If you or a loved one are in need of help with addiction, contact us today. Our professional and friendly addiction specialists are able to answer your questions and get things moving in the right direction.