Addiction is a serious, chronic disease with far-reaching consequences for you and your relationship with loved ones.
It also affects your body physically, with both short- and long-term consequences.
Drug and Alcohol Addiction and your Brain
Drug and alcohol use has a tremendous effect on the brain. The brain regulates important life-sustaining functions, like respiration. It also allows you to interpret all the sensory impressions you are constantly picking up, as well as your thoughts and emotions. These factors all influence your behavior.
The limbic system is the part of the brain containing its pleasure center. It controls and regulates the ability to experience pleasure. When activities are pleasurable, we tend to repeat them. This system is stimulated by healthy, positive activities, such as eating, exercising, and spending time with family and friends.
Drugs affect the way the brain normally sends, receives, and processes information. Some drugs activate the pleasure centers in the brain by “fooling” the brain’s receptors and attaching onto cells in the brain. They mimic the action of the brain’s natural chemicals but don’t activate the brain in the same manner as its natural neurotransmitters (chemical messengers).
When certain addictive drugs are taken, they release multiple times the amount of the brain’s pleasure chemical (dopamine) as do pleasurable activities, such as eating and sex. If the drug is smoked or injected, these effects are felt almost immediately. They also last longer than the pleasure felt by “natural” means. This reward is so powerful that it motivates users to repeat the experience, even though subsequent “highs” may not match the initial experience with the drug.
Addiction and your Life
Once an addiction to alcohol or drugs takes hold, it becomes the priority in a person’s life. If you were addicted to substances, you would find yourself spending more time and money acquiring and using your drug of choice. This means you would have less time for activities you used to enjoy, such as sports and hobbies.
You may even decide to stay away from family events and beg off from plans you had previously made with your family to get drunk or high. It also gets more difficult to keep up your regular schedule and keep your addiction fed; you will need time to recover from being drunk or high.
The addiction will also likely take a toll on your work or school life. Your attendance and work performance may suffer since your full attention will not be on your employment duties or studies.
Alcohol and drug use to the point of intoxication puts you at increased risk of injury, both at home and on the job. You are also at increased risk of being involved in a car accident, which could lead to serious injuries to yourself or others.
How Addiction Affects your Family
Addiction isn’t just a disease that affects one person. It also takes a toll on the entire family. Since addiction leads to irresistible cravings and urges to drink or use to avoid experiencing withdrawal symptoms, people who are addicted make substances their priority. They no longer have a choice in the matter.
Even though it may not seem like something you would normally do, if you developed an addiction you would likely find yourself lying to your family members about whether you are using and how much you are using. You may take money that is earmarked for paying bills and use it to support your addiction.
These types of actions erode the trust built up between you and your family members, leading to increased conflict. Over time, relationships between you and your family will suffer due to multiple occurrences of lies, half-truths, and broken promises. Once trust has been broken, it’s very difficult to rebuild it.
Someone who is living with an addiction can start to find their way back by seeking professional help at a drug and alcohol treatment center. Long-term recovery is possible with individualized addiction treatment.
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Drugs and the Brain. National Institute on Drug Abuse.