Let’s Talk Science: The Biology Behind Addiction

You know addiction is unhealthy – whether it is drug addiction, alcohol addiction, addiction to pornography, addiction to food…

The list goes on.

But, whatever the subject of your addiction might be, it isn’t good for you. You know – like the saying “Too much of even a good thing is bad.” That is what I am talking about – even if it is something small like food, too much of it can still be bad.

Few people understand the true feelings and struggles that come with addiction, but even fewer people actually understand the science behind it – where it comes from and how it affects your brain.

Even as an addict you might not fully understand the “how” and the “why” behind your addiction. However, learning the hard-hitting facts about addiction might just be the wake-up call some people need to overcome it…

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What does addiction do to your brain?

The part of the brain known as the “reward circuit” is the area most commonly affected by drugs. As a result of the intake of the drugs, the reward circuit becomes flooded with dopamine.

Dopamine is essentially a neurotransmitter released when something is pleasurable.

Furthermore, the reward center is what controls the body’s ability to feel pleasure and motivates a person to repeat those activities – therefore, when dopamine is released, your reward circuit reads this and advises you to keep participating in that activity.

As the individual continues to use their drug of choice, the brain adjusts to the excessive amount of dopamine being flooded into the reward circuit and will begin to require more. This is why a person will begin to develop an “immunity” or “tolerance” to the drug and will need to consume more to feel the same high they once felt.

Long-term drug use can also affect:

  • Judgment
  • Stress
  • Behavior
  • Memory
  • Learning
  • Decision-making 

Why do people become addicted to drugs?

Addiction can be a result of biology – the genes each person is born with account for about half of their risk of becoming an addict of some sort.

Addiction can be a result of a person’s environment – from economic status to their general quality of life, factors such as sexual abuse, early exposure to drugs, and peer pressure can greatly increase a person’s susceptibility.

Lastly, addiction can also be a result of development – genetic and environmental factors interact with critical stages of development in a person’s life that can influence their risk of becoming an addict.