Recent addiction research has proven that it is a disease of the brain. However, many people don’t yet know or acknowledge this fact. Even if you agree with this model, you may wonder why this disease is more powerful than other illnesses. Addiction is a chronic and relapsing disease that impacts neurological pathways. Therefore, recovery from substance addiction is not merely a matter of willpower.
How Is Substance Use Disorder Similar to Other Chronic Diseases?
Like many other chronic diseases, substance use disorder (SUD) alters and impairs the way one’s bodily systems function. For example, addiction and heart disease both cause changes in organ function. However, addiction impairs judgment and decision-making, whereas heart disease affects blood pressure, heartbeat rhythm, and other adverse health effects.
Luckily, addiction is similar to other chronic diseases because it is preventable and treatable. However, if untreated, addiction may last a lifetime, leading to fatal consequences. In addition, like other chronic diseases, addiction recovery takes a long time and requires perpetual care.
What Are Neurological Pathways?
Neurological pathways form the fundamental structures of our brain, which controls the entire body’s communication system. They determine communication between neurons responsible for the body’s sensations and functions through the nervous system.
When a person develops SUD, the neurological pathways in their brain are rewired to facilitate addiction. The initial use of alcohol or drugs may stimulate the brain’s pleasure center by mimicking natural brain chemicals to a heightened degree. Over time, these neurons become inhibited and no longer perform as they once did.
In other words, substances stimulate the brain by artificially hijacking its pleasure center. Repeated or long-term use of substances creates new mesolimbic pathways that make the addictive behavior compulsive. When a person develops substance dependency, these revised pathways require professional treatment to undo.
How Does Addiction Affect Other Parts of the Brain?
Research shows that people with SUD experience gray matter loss in the prefrontal cortex, dorsal striatum, insula, and posterior cingulate cortex. These alterations are associated with significant and fast increases in dopamine production induced by substances. Dysfunctions of prefrontal regions often lead to negative emotional, mental, and behavioral consequences.
Addiction puts a lot of stress on the brain. At the same time, changes in these parts of the brain compromise its natural means of stress management. As a result, many people turn to substances to self-medicate excessive stress. Unfortunately, this usually only leads to more stress and further problems.
What Is the Role of the Brain in Relapse?
The changed neurological pathways also explain why people in recovery often experience relapses. Because the new mesolimbic pathways exist to perpetuate addiction, they cause uncontrollable urges to use and abuse substances repeatedly. Even after getting sober, these cravings can rear their heads and cause those in recovery to relapse. The more times a person relapses, the more powerful these mesolimbic pathways become.
Fortunately, this knowledge about the brain’s pathways helps health professionals design mind-body rebalancing treatments to treat addiction and prevent relapses. Conversely, denying that addiction is a brain disease may be harmful because it contributes to treatment-seeking barriers.
How Does Brain Science Aid Prevention?
Neurological research about addiction as a brain disease provides broad implications on how to prevent substance abuse best. For example, we know that young people are vulnerable to substances because the brain is at a critical developmental state. Even experimenting with drugs or alcohol may increase their risk for SUD later in life. Therefore, education and screening are necessary measures for this population.
Additionally, knowledge about how the brain works in addiction and recovery helps health professionals design treatment plans for a broader range of people. For example, assessments of neurological processes may contribute to improvements in personalized treatment plans.
How Do You Restore Mind-Body Balance During Recovery?
Knowledge about neurology can help professionals and recovering individuals understand the importance of mind-body treatments during recovery. For example, the prefrontal cortex is where humans experience creativity and joy. When a recovering individual engages in creative or adventure therapies, this part of the brain can learn to experience satisfaction again.
The importance of a holistic approach to recovery should never be underestimated. Although detox and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) are essential components of a treatment plan, individuals should also become proactive in engaging with the benefits of experiential therapies. For example, watching a sunset, connecting with peers, or engaging in craft-making, such experiences can help heal the brain.
Experiential therapy focuses on bringing peace, joy, and contentment through natural means. Given time, a recovering individual’s brain will learn to trust the process and heal. As a result, they can experience a significant shift in mood, emotion, and behaviors for lasting recovery.
Did you know that substance addiction is a chronic but treatable brain disease? Denying addiction is a brain disease may be harmful because it contributes to barriers to seeking treatment. Laguna Shores Recovery has experts who integrate neuroscience research into treatment. Here, we offer many services and programs that provide evidence-based care to our clients. Our treatment plans can include detox, medication, 12-Step groups, cognitive-behavioral therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, experiential therapy, creative therapies, and relationship skills coaching to get you on the right path to long-lasting recovery. We also offer outpatient programs you can use after finishing residential treatment. Schedule an appointment with us today at Laguna Shores Recovery. You will not find a better recovery community than ours. Do not delay treatment. Call us today at 866-934-5276, and we will be happy to talk with you about long- and short-term planning.