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Addiction – A Brain Disease

Addiction a brain diseaseWhen the addiction unfolds

Once viewed as a flaw in morals and weakness of character, addiction today is understood for exactly what it is- a brain disease.

Addiction is manifested by an inability to stop using a substance, changes in behavior, a strong desire to repeat the experience and changes in emotional status. Brain imaging has conclusively shown differences in the limbic system activity of addicts. That’s why addiction isn’t really a choice, and why conscious behavioral change doesn’t help. The addiction happens at a much more primitive level in the brain, in a part that’s not under conscious control. It establishes addiction as a disorder of pleasure.

Sovereign Health Group is a residential rehabilitation treatment company for substance abuse, mental health disorders and dual diagnosis. Our expert staff provides our patients with cutting-edge treatment programming and a full continuum of therapeutic care monitored by various licensed health professionals.

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The human brain

There are three areas of the brain that are affected by drugs and alcohol: the brain stem, the limbic system and the cerebral cortex.

  • The brain stem controls automatic functions in a healthy body such as breathing, digesting food and blood circulation. Connected to the spinal cord, it facilitates communication and control of body functions.
  • The limbic system controls emotional responses such as reward and pleasure. The activation of these structures is what compels people to repeat an experience that provides pleasure.
  • The largest area of the brain is the cerebral cortex, which consists of four lobes, each controlling a specific function. These include sight, hearing, touch, movement and sense of smell. Other areas control higher tiers of cognitive function such as problem solving or critical thinking.

Drug addiction and the brain

The brain registers all kinds of pleasures, including that gained from drug use. All drugs of abuse are responsible for creating a large surge of dopamine in the reward center of the brain producing a characteristic, euphoric high. Natural reward response (such as receiving a compliment) requires time for dopamine to be released whereas drugs provide a short cut to feelings of happiness and euphoria. The increased influx of dopamine overwhelms the brain receptors causing the brain to produce less of or demolish this neurotransmitter. Reward circuits are weakened and a vicious cycle is formed where tolerance is acquired and even larger amounts of drugs are required to achieve the initial effect.

Since each drug is different, the chemical composition affects the brain in different ways, respectively. The effects of some drugs are long-lasting and there may be residual amounts left in the body after a person has stopped using the drug, there may even be changes to the brain that are permanent.

Long-term drug use causes the amount of glutamate to be altered causing the cognitive function of the brain to become impaired. Clinical studies have demonstrated that long-term drug and alcohol abuse diminishes cognitive brain function, 75 percent of alcoholics have some damage in their cognitive brain function. The second leading cause of dementia in adults is alcohol dementia, second only to Alzheimer’s disease. Cognition refers to the mental abilities and processes we use to understand our environment and function in it. Hence, any cognitive deficits render decision-making inadequate. Drugs change the structure as well as the function of the brain. Brain imaging has shown that structural abnormalities in the white matter of the brain, which coordinates communication between different areas of the brain, are common in addicts. People who are addicted to harmful substances often show a loss of cognitive functions. These deficits may play a role in leading them into addiction.

Treatment at Sovereign

People who are addicted to harmful substances often show a loss of cognitive functions. These deficits may play a role in leading them into addiction. Often cognitive impairments are overlooked in rehab treatment. A patient might seem unmotivated and in denial, when in reality the patient is cognitively impaired and can’t make the conceptual shift to problem solving. Studies show that in residential rehab, about 40 percent of the patients have significant cognitive impairment.

The Sovereign Health Group program features a unique component called brain wellness. The primary philosophy that forms the basis for our entire treatment program is the cognitive connection to addiction and mental health. Without addressing this aspect of the afflicted person’s life, it is impossible to expect a successful, lasting outcome.

Sovereign applies both technology and counseling to identify the neurological state as well as lifestyle issues that could be hampering a client’s path to sobriety or emotional wellness.

Cognitive impairment affects the ability of the brain to improve during treatment. That’s why at Sovereign, we place a lot of emphasis on cognitive rehabilitation. This involves computer-based programs and games to regenerate neurons and build new links in the brain.

The brain can be repaired, but it takes work to retrain it. It also requires attention to nutrition, education and physical exercise. We provide alternate therapies such as art, equine, yoga and meditation to further complement our patients’ progress. Sovereign also provides an active and engaging family support program to bring patients all the support they may need.

Despite the intertwined complexities involved that leave many hopeless, recovery is always a possibility. Sovereign Health specializes in identifying co-occurring morbidities, helping you choose the right treatment and offers genuine support and aftercare. Our patients not only get to learn valuable coping skills, but can also benefit from the help to repair the damage done to the brain by drugs and alcohol. There is no stone left unturned when it comes to our patients’ well-being and a sustained recovery.

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