Washington Post: How heroin changes the brain of an addict

See on Scoop.itAddictions and Mental Health

“It’s not just a willpower issue. The drug affects the part of the brain that responds to pleasurable things.”



This is a good and highly readable discussion of neurological changes that occur with repeated use of psychoactive substances and  perpetuate addiction.  It highlights changes to the reward regions of the brain, explaining that the brain responds to drug-induced floods of dopamine by dampening its response to this neurotransmitter, and possibly to “all forms of pleasurable behavior”. Hence, addicts “seek larger and larger hits to achieve an ever-diminishing pleasure experience, and they have trouble feeling satisfaction from the things that healthy people enjoy.”

The article also explains that activities, people and places that become associated with the ingestion of psychoactive substances are eventually able to trigger, on their own, a cascade of dopamine into the nucleus accumbens, and thus provoke people to seek the huge reward the drug offers. The author of the article, Brian Palmer notes that:

“Eventually, so much of (the addict’s) life becomes associated with getting high that it becomes nearly impossible for them to resist the urge. Going to work makes them think of getting high. Watching television makes them think of getting high. Finishing a meal makes them think of getting high.”

The article concludes with the hope that there may eventually be drugs that can weaken the neural pathways between triggers and cravings for drugs, but mentions that in the meantime, it is typically helpful to for an addict to be surrounded by supportive friends and family members who can help him (or her) to remember that there are alternatives to drugs.  Palmer says, rightly, ” The plasticity of an addicted brain is diminished, not eliminated.”

See on www.washingtonpost.com:  http://goo.gl/R51UZ4

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