Addiction symptoms vary from person to person, however there are a few characteristics that remain constant. Alcohol and drugs produce pleasurable, euphoric effects by directly or indirectly targeting the brain’s reward system.
“Drugs and alcohol flood the brain with a chemical message known a dopamine which motivates you to use drugs and alcohol over and over again.”
With repeated substance abuse the dopamine impact on the reward system in the brain can become abnormally lower, so much so that heavier and more frequent use results in less pressure and a lessened high.
As a result of this other brain systems, such as stress response, become overactive and create unpleasant feelings like anxiety. As addiction worsens, alcohol and drug abusers repeat use in order to relieve these unpleasant feelings as opposed to seeking pleasure. So instead of using the substance to get high they are using it to feel normal or not sick.
Addiction Affects The Brain
Addiction leads to changes in the brain and its memory system. The changes are so significant that even reminders of drug and alcohol use (such as being present at a bar and around alcohol) triggers cravings. Even if the addict has been sober for years.
Chronic and heavy drug and alcohol use alters the structure of the brain and its function. This will result in changes that last for years even after a person has stopped using. That is why relapses are so frequent addiction symptoms amongst many drug abusers and alcoholics.
Synapses in the brain are places where signals are passed from one nerve to another. These signals are known as the body’s neurotransmitters. These neurotransmitters are things like dopamine that are used to give the body reward like feelings. Addiction to drugs like cocaine have a long term effect on these neurotransmitters.
Long term use of cocaine makes your mind tolerant to the release of dopamine. The brain produces smaller amounts dopamine and the user is required to use more and more cocaine in order to receive a normal level of dopamine.
Causes of Addiction
Some people are more prone to being an addict or a alcoholic compared to others. It depends on their genetic background. Genetics account for 40 to 60 percent of a person’s vulnerability to addiction. In addition to genetics, drug and alcohol use at a young age can increase the odds of addiction.
Almost 90% of all drug and alcohol addicts reported first abusing substances before the age of 18. Childhood trauma and living in areas where substance abuse is prevalent are both factors that contribute to addiction.
There are many addiction treatment options available for individuals or families who are looking to help their loved ones.