According to the National Drug Intelligence Center, Americans lose more than $700 billion a year due to addictions, which result in lost productivity, increased health care costs, and crime. This devastating figure attests to how many people are affected by the disease of addiction—and how difficult it can be for addiction treatment programs to treat that disease.

In the early stages of addiction studies, which began in the 1930s, many perceived addiction as a moral failure or lack of virtue, and rather than receiving treatment, addicts were punished. Thankfully, science has progressed beyond this narrow viewpoint, and today, many addiction treatment centers recognize addiction as a disease that should be treated, similar to heart disease. Just as heart disease erodes healthy heart function, so addiction erodes healthy brain function, and many studies have been undertaken to study what happens to the brain when someone is addicted to drugs or alcohol.

Addiction physically changes the landscape of the brain. According to a 2007 study, addiction affects brain areas crucial to judgment, decision-making, learning and memory, and behavior control. As addicts take larger doses over time, the drugs increasingly change their brains, and they are at a higher risk for making poor choices. Many turn to drug rehab to detox and remove the influence of drugs and alcohol from their bodies.

In a healthy brain, positive activities such as socializing or enjoying a meal release chemicals like serotonin and dopamine, which then bind with neuron receptors to create a feeling of happiness or pleasure. However, drugs like marijuana and heroin override these natural systems to create an artificial high. These drugs are chemical imposters of serotonin and dopamine and can therefore bind with the same receptors to flood the brain with a fleeting, false high. Over time, addicts’ brains become acclimated, and addicts have to take higher and higher dosages of drugs to achieve the high they seek.

Other drugs like amphetamines and cocaine trigger the brain to release certain naturally occurring chemicals, but then block the brain from recycling them. The result is a brain swimming in abnormally high levels of chemicals like dopamine, and an extremely powerful euphoria.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, healthy human brains teach us to repeat positive activities like eating and having sex by linking these activities with pleasure or reward. For example, when we visit a friend or give a gift and are rewarded with dopamine, this feeling reinforces the action and teaches us to repeat the action again. However, in an addicts’ brain, the action being reinforced is taking drugs. The more an addict abuses drugs, the more he or she is rewarded with dopamine, creating a vicious cycle that’s difficult to break out of without the help of an addiction recovery center.

Unfortunately, one of the results of this cycle is that drug users quickly become acclimated to abnormal levels of dopamine in their system, and thus activities that release a normal level of dopamine—like eating, engaging in hobbies, or sex—feel flat or dull, and drugs alone can supply that feeling of pleasure.

Only treatment in a drug rehab facility will enable you or a loved one to reverse the negative effects of addiction. Contact a compassionate representative today to learn about our facilities and programs.