How Addiction Hijacks Your Brain

Addiction Hijacks Brain


That word initially reads as a bit dramatic, doesn’t it?

We hear the same couple of phrases and expressions quite consistently in the addiction field:

“It’s not that serious.”

Drugs and alcohol don’t control me.”

“I’m still the same person.”

But you’re not the same person right now. Biologically and statistically – you’re not. 

A quick definition of “Hijack”: take over (something) and use it for a different purpose.

The way that substances abuse, use, manipulate, change, and control the brain – kind of sounds like hijacking, right?

The focus here is on the pleasure of life that’s being hijacked from you, which unfolds the intricate narrative of how substance use wreaks havoc on the very fabric of your brain. 

Your brain is like a super-complex computer that controls everything you do and feel. It’s really good at learning and handling your emotions. But when you bring in drugs or alcohol, disaster strikes. These substances can seriously change how your brain works by messing with the chemicals and pathways that control pleasure, reward, and decision-making. The substances take over, causing your brain to go through some major changes. This can mess with how you think, feel, and act. So, the substances are playing a tricky game with your brain, showing how delicate and tough your most important organ can be, and how it affects your entire experience of life.

It’s really important to know how this change happens because it shows how crucial it is to break away from using substances. Stopping the use of alcohol or drugs is vital to let your brain go back to its normal state. This helps people find real joy again and take charge of their overall well-being.

Enjoyment is more difficult because the reward circuit has been desensitized.

Using alcohol or drugs can seriously mess with how your brain feels pleasure. When you do things that make the reward circuit in your brain happy, it lets out chemicals, also known as neurotransmitters. One of these is dopamine, and its job is to send happy messages, making you feel good and motivated. It also helps control negative emotions.

However, when you start taking substances, they may make your brain release chemicals like dopamine, giving you the euphoric feeling that you’re chasing. Consequently, with continued use, the brain adapts by reducing its sensitivity to these stimuli, leading to a desensitization of the reward circuit. This hijacking of your brain’s reward system is a big deal because it can take away your ability to enjoy life without using these substances. It’s important for people to realize how harmful this can be and how it can slowly make them lose control over their happiness.

For addiction to develop, people often need to use drugs regularly. This happens more in those who are vulnerable, where their reward system gets disturbed repeatedly. This disturbance can then affect different parts of the brain, like motivation, self-control, and memory.

So, things that used to make you happy don’t feel as good anymore. You might need more excitement to feel satisfied, which can make the addiction cycle worse as you try to chase that initial good feeling with higher doses or more use.

Getting out of addiction means not just dealing with the physical part but also helping the brain get sensitive again through therapy and treatment. By understanding how substances affect the brain, you’ll be able to open up to others for support and restore a healthy balance in your life.

“Anti-reward” experiences increase, including anxiety, depression, shame, and irritability.

In active addiction, the “anti-reward” phenomenon is like a cloud that hangs over the brain. As someone continues to use substances, the brain’s reward system becomes desensitized, making it harder to feel pleasure from everyday activities. This lack of joy, coupled with the negative consequences of addiction, creates an “anti-reward” experience. It’s as if the brain starts associating using substances with stress, anxiety, and guilt instead of pleasure. This negative cycle intensifies, making it challenging for individuals to find happiness outside of substance use, contributing to the persistence of addiction.

Going through recovery from addiction is really tough because it’s not just about fighting physical cravings. It also brings up a lot of tough emotions like anxiety, sadness, shame, and irritability. Dealing with these feelings is a big part of getting better. Supportive therapies, counseling, and behavior interventions help a lot in handling these emotions and making the recovery journey more doable. 

Understanding how these experiences affect you shows why a well-rounded approach, which cares for your body as well as your emotions, is vital. The complexity of addiction and its effect on your mind, body, and soul requires reliable support, a comprehensive and innovative approach, and empathy from the people that surround you

Stress response, self-control, and healthy decision-making skills are less effective.

When you’re dealing with addiction, stress, lack of control, and bad decision-making create a really tough cycle that makes things even harder. Let’s break down why this mix is so tough:

  • Stress Response Amplification: If you’re in the middle of addiction, it can make your stress response go a bit haywire. Using substances a lot messes up the normal way the body handles stress, releasing too many stress hormones like cortisol. This makes the stress feelings worse, adding more pressure onto your mind and body.
  • Impact on Self-Control: Addiction messes with how the brain works, especially the area called the prefrontal cortex, which helps with self-control. Using drugs or alcohol regularly disrupts this system, making it hard for a person to say no to cravings and control impulses. So, making rational decisions and keeping self-control becomes really tough, and the focus shifts more toward getting the addictive substance.
  • Impaired Decision-Making: In active addiction, your brain makes it hard for you to make good decisions. You might choose the quick pleasure of using substances over thinking about your long-term goals and well-being. This kind of faulty decision-making leads to harmful actions, like using substances even when you know it’s causing problems.
  • Vicious Cycle: When stress goes up, and it’s hard to control yourself and make good choices, it creates a cycle that just keeps going. People might use substances to cope with stress for a bit, but then they get stuck in a loop where addiction keeps getting worse, making it even tougher to make good decisions for their health.

According to brain imaging, studies suggest that addiction happens when there’s an imbalance in how the brain processes and puts together information from different circuits. This imbalance shows up as: (a) reward circuits becoming less responsive, (b) memory circuits getting more sensitive to expectations linked to drugs and cues, stress, and negative mood, and (c) a control circuit getting weaker.

Even though trying a drug is usually a choice, using it a lot can mess up brain circuits related to free will, making drug use more like a habit that happens automatically. 

This mix of problems really hits hard, affecting your whole life – your relationships, work, and physical health. Getting out of addiction means dealing with all these things together. It’s important to have treatments that help with stress, improve thinking skills, and teach better ways to cope. Recognizing how tough these challenges are shows why it’s essential to reach out for professional help and support. It’s the first step to navigating the tough parts of addiction and starting a path to recovery that lasts.

Start Your Addiction Recovery Journey Today

Think of it like this: Rehab is like a reset button for the brain, helping you break free from the blurry grip of addiction. It works to bring back normal functioning, allowing you to regain control over your decisions and emotions. 

Right now, it may feel like a relentless battle, where the temporary numbness provided by substances offers an illusion of escape. However, the harsh reality remains: as soon as the numbing effect wears off, the overwhelming emotions return with an even greater force. But, rehab provides a comprehensive approach that can help you regain control and live the life you were meant to before drugs or alcohol were introduced to you. 

At Discovery Point Retreat, we understand the profound challenges you face and are committed to providing a safe, secure, and supportive environment for your journey to recovery. Here, you can confront the depths of your addiction, rediscover your true self, and embark on a path toward lasting healing and personal transformation.

With 24-hour support, medical care, therapy, behavioral interventions, and education about how your body works, it gives you the tools to understand and combat the disease you’re facing. This holistic approach empowers you to see beyond the hazy lines of addiction, reclaiming your autonomy and paving the way for a healthier, self-directed life.


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