The question of whether addiction is genetic or environmental has long been pondered. However, it is more complex than simply attributing it to one or the other. According to neuroscience research, addiction is a chronic, relapsing disease of the brain. Some people’s genetics predispose them to developing substance use disorder (SUD) easily after repeated exposure, and environmental and social factors can also influence one’s likelihood to develop SUD.
Understanding addiction from a neuroscience perspective can dispel long-held stigmas about addiction being a moral failing or character flaw. Neuroscience research provides the basis for addiction to be understood as a chronic disease, just like diabetes, asthma, or hypertension. All these chronic diseases are influenced by genetic and environmental factors. They are also subject to relapse and require continued care.
How Substances Affect the Brain
People who experiment with substances for the first time may experience a rush of pleasure because of a flood of dopamine in the brain. Repeated drug use continually alters the functions of neurotransmitters in the brain, making it more and more difficult to regain balance the longer one uses. Chronic exposure to substances affects the amygdala and hippocampus, which can cause long-lasting damage to the way one makes decisions and experiences pleasure.
Meanwhile, changes in the extended amygdala result in negative emotional states that perpetuate substance consumption as an attempt to temporarily alleviate them. To compensate for the difference between the magnitude of the expected reward manifested in the memory of substance use and the actual experience of it, some people are motivated to use higher doses or use more frequently. By then, they have developed a tolerance and SUD has likely occurred.
How Long Will These Changes in the Brain Last?
Behavioral signs of addiction include compulsive substance-seeking and using despite obvious negative consequences or a strong desire to quit. These symptoms show that the brain has gone through fundamental changes. The changes in the brain responsible for these maladaptive behaviors can persist for months or even years. This is why health professionals call addiction a chronic disorder that requires continued treatment, not something that someone can quit through sheer willpower.
The brain responds to addiction based on many factors, such as the type and amount of drugs used, the frequency of use, and the stage to which SUD has progressed. Once the brain experiences chemical changes, individuals can feel physical symptoms as well as the impact of the substance throughout their nervous system. SUD tends to be accompanied by co-occurring mental health illnesses because of the way it affects the brain.
Ways to Treat the Brain in Addiction Recovery
Because normal brain function has been compromised in people with SUD, medical professionals have developed innovative treatments and therapies to stabilize the brain. One example is biofeedback therapy. Health professionals may monitor the brain by electroencephalograms (EEGs) to reduce the effects of addiction and improve healthy brain activity.
When combined with proven therapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), biofeedback or neurofeedback methods can be more effective. Together, these methods help people reduce stress, anxiety, and compulsions. An integrated approach that uses multiple different therapeutic techniques is the best treatment when dealing with SUD.
The Importance of an Integrated Approach
An integrated approach to treating addiction allows the maximum level of personalization by caring for the whole person at once. It allows treatment professionals to incorporate new treatment methods. For example, ongoing research may translate our ever-expanding knowledge of molecular pathways and brain circuits involved in SUD into new treatments.
The neuroscientific community’s deepening understanding of the neurobiological, genetic, epigenetic, and environmental mechanisms that influence addiction helps medical professionals design new interventions and treatments. For example, technologies including gene sequencing and manipulation, sensitive imaging technologies, and brain stimulation devices are promising tools to deal with addiction and its causes.
Integrating neuroscience research into general practitioner treatment also helps prevention and early intervention. For example, cognitive screening and assessment in primary care can help identify people who need education and intervention at an early stage. This practice has been proven successful in screening for other diseases such as dementia. Making general cognitive screening mainstream and routine can also help raise awareness about prevention. This can be especially effective in preventing and combating the teen addiction epidemic.
Where to Find Neuroscience-Informed Treatment
When choosing a recovery facility, ask whether their medical team takes an integrated approach. Ask questions about how they incorporate neuroscience research-based methods into their treatment plans. Check whether their mental health professionals are licensed and understand addiction as a brain disease.
You want to work with a well-trained team of recovery experts who can educate and coach you on how to understand addiction and the recovery process from a scientific point of view. Personalized treatment plans and holistic care for your needs are extremely important for the success of your recovery.
Recovery from addiction is an educational journey to learn about how your body works. Continued neuroscientific research in the recovery field helps people’s recovery go smoother. A well-trained team of recovery experts who can educate and coach you on how to understand addiction and the recovery process from a scientific point of view can be a major benefit in your recovery journey. Find out whether the treatment center you’re considering offers personalized treatment plans and holistic care for your needs. At Laguna Shores Recovery, our experienced mental health professionals approach all treatment plans with knowledge of neuroscience research. We have a full medical and residential facility and our experienced mental health professionals can coach and support you in recovery. Call us today to discover how you can be part of our community. We commit to providing the best care for you or your loved one. Call today at (954) 329-1118.