What do addictive behaviors do to your brain?
You can’t see it with your eyes. You can’t really measure it. But we now know that addictive behaviors cause damage to your brain. The result? They change your personality. They change your thinking. They change your moods. They change YOU!
First, let’s define Addiction:
It’s the state of being ENSLAVED to a habit or practice or to something that is psychologically or physically habit forming. This can include dependencies on prescription drugs, alcohol, narcotics, foods (like carbohydrates), marijuana, tobacco, pornography, gambling, the internet, video games, compulsive shopping…..BUT here’s the good news. Addictions can be overcome.
The hardest part is to admit you may have
an addiction problem.
Blah! Blah! Blah! We’ve all heard this one. But wait! There’s a logical, scientific reason for this – that is – when you become addicted to anything, your brain changes physically. It’s not the same bundle of nerves arranged in the same patterns, being nourished by the same blood supply pattern that it once was. It’s morphed into an unsupervised functioning organ that selfishly rationalizes away at the expense of your relationships, finances, faith, and best interests. You’ve lost sight of the target until eventually, you may not even realize how bad or how extreme the Addiction has become. Take heart, research tells us you DON’T have to hit rock bottom.
Here’s the evidence
Our brain uses hundreds of billions of cells that have been strategically arranged to efficiently function analytically and efficiently. Those cells (called neurons) are constantly working, using energy to function and controlling the activities of every other organ in your body. They monitor your thinking, concentration, breathing pattern, heartbeat, sex hormones, mood, muscle movements, digestion, and on and on.
Each neuron makes chemicals (called neurotransmitters) that send messages back and forth among themselves in a fraction of a second. As they talk to one another, the neurotransmitters coordinate every tiny action that makes you, you. When we take care of our brains through healthy living, it won’t fail us. When addictive activities hijack our brains, we lose ourselves.
The neurotransmitter dopamine is where it’s at
Dopamine motivates you and makes you happy. It lights up your brain cells and makes them fire, especially in the reward system/pleasure pathway in your brain.
We’re rewarded by simple day-to-day pleasures in a healthy brain, like a good book, eating chocolate, time with a friend, or a beautiful sunset. Here’s the downward spiral:
- Using any addictive substance or repeatedly participating in an addictive behavior causes your dopamine levels to surge.
- Dopamine then dumps into all parts of your body (liver, heart, muscles, brain).
- The dopamine surge causes you to feel euphoric, teaching your brain to want to repeat the addictive pattern.
- Keep it up, and eventually, your natural dopamine levels bottom out as your brain tells you that it’s got too much.
- Your brain stops making dopamine, leaving you moody, anxious, and irritable.
- You reach for the fix – the addictive substance.
A vicious cycle.
At first, getting involved in Addiction is a choice. As time goes on, the habit changes your brain chemicals and your brain structure. Specialized brain scans taken in drug and alcohol users show lower blood flow (circulation) and slower brain activity. In other words, areas of your brain literally shut down with continued use, affecting your memory, concentration, judgment, behavior, and mood.
That’s why it can be so difficult to convince yourself that Addiction is harming your brain, and ultimately, your life. You’ve severely compromised your brain power, and therefore, your ability to plan, reason, and make healthy decisions.
Your brain can repair itself
The longer you avoid Addiction, the better your brain will function. Long term dependency and heavy drug use can take longer to heal, but the damage can be reversed. It takes time, patience, and hard work. You’re being asked to change the way you think and the way you behave at a time when it’s probably the hardest.
Your brain feels like a battlefield – but it can be rewired, if you treat it well. Research has discovered a property called neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity means that your brain can reorganize itself and form new connections throughout your life. Once your system clears the offending agent, you can conquer your Addiction and become a whole person again.
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