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What Does Addiction Do To the Brain?

Addiction effects on the brain are not fully understood, but it is clear that it alters brain chemistry in a way that leads to compulsive drug-seeking behavior. The changes in brain chemistry caused by addiction can be long-lasting and can lead to permanent changes in brain structure and function. 

Addiction effects on the brain include problems with: 

1. Learning 

2. Memory 

3. Decision making 

4. Impulse control 

All these problems can persist even after an individual has stopped using drugs or alcohol, which is why addiction is considered a relapsing disease. The changes that addiction causes in the brain can make it very difficult for someone to quit on their own, which is why professional help is often necessary to overcome addiction. 

Let’s take a closer look at addiction effects on the brain. 


Addiction causes changes in the mesolimbic dopamine system, which is responsible for the pleasurable sensations associated with drug use. 

Normally, the brain produces chemicals – called neurotransmitters – that make us feel good when we do things like eat or have sex. Drugs imitate or enhance the effects of neurotransmitters, resulting in an intense feeling of pleasure. 

Over time, the brain becomes less responsive to the drug’s effects. This means that people have to take more and more of the drug to get the same feeling of pleasure. This is called tolerance. 

Addiction Effects on the Brain: Moods 

The moods that are regulated by the brain can be drastically affected by addiction. Drugs can cause a person to feel elated and happy, but they can also lead to depression and other negative moods. These mood swings can make it difficult for people with addiction to function in day-to-day life. 

Not only do these mood swings affect the individual concerned, but they can have a profound effect on those around them. The people closest to someone with addiction often suffer as well, due to the unpredictable and sometimes dangerous behaviors that can result from addiction, or the false sense of security given when the individual is experiencing a high. 

Addiction Effects on the Brain: Learning 

Addiction can also change the way the brain learns. Drugs can interfere with the formation of new memories, and they can also make it difficult to retrieve old memories. This can lead to problems with learning and decision-making. 

People with addiction often find it difficult to stick to goals or plans, as they may forget what they were trying to do in the first place. They may also have trouble making decisions, as they may not be able to weigh all the options and make a rational choice. 

Impulse Control 

Addiction can also cause problems with impulse control. This means that people may have difficulty resisting the urge to use drugs, even when they know it is harmful. It may also mean they may act on a whim, without thinking about the consequences of their actions 


Addiction can also change the way the brain makes decisions. Decision-making takes part in the prefrontal cortex. This area of the brain is responsible for planning, organization, and impulse control. 

Drugs alter the function of the prefrontal cortex, making it difficult for people with addiction to make sound decisions. This can lead to risky behaviors, such as driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. It can also lead to problems in relationships and at work. 

Addiction Effects on the Brain: Treatment 

The good news is that addiction is a treatable condition. With the right kind of help, people can recover from addiction and lead healthy, productive lives. 

However, addiction means different things to different people. Some people may be able to quit on their own, while others may need professional help. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to treatment. 

At Shades of Hope, we offer a variety of programs that can help you or a loved one on the road to recovery. We’re unique because our team has all gone through the exact same program. Contact us today to learn more. 

It’s time to heal.