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How Addiction Affects the Body and Mind

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Addiction is clinically known as substance use disorder and is a complex disease that induces changes in a user’s brain and body that could be permanent. With this disease, an individual will compulsively use substances, with little to no regard that addiction can negatively affect the mind and body.

Substance use disorder can negatively impact several aspects of an individual’s life, including (but not limited to) the brain, mind, and body, social relationships, family relationships, employment, and financial status. Some individuals are what is coined “functioning addicts,” where less obvious negative tangible impacts are displayed. However, regardless of what substance, or how little or how much, one thing stays the same across the board for all individuals with substance use disorder: the changes within the body and mind.

Breakdown of How Addiction Changes the Brain

We need to break down exactly how addiction works to understand how addiction affects the brain. The brain is made up of gray matter, and while it is relatively small in proportion (around 3 lbs), it is responsible for all activity inside the body. There are several “centers of control” in the brain, and these centers work together to allow us to function.

When an individual uses substances, the substances can alter how these centers of control output information. Let’s take a look at a few of the areas of the brain that substance use directly affects:

  • Basal Ganglia – This is the area in the brain that is responsible for a motivation driven by pleasure, habit formation, and reward. Substance use can over-activate this area of the brain- resulting in less pleasure from other activities.
  • Extended Amygdala – This brain area plays a big part in stress response and anxiety. When substances are introduced, it can make this area overactive, resulting in irritability and anxiety increase and “withdrawal” symptoms.
  • Prefrontal Cortex – This area of the brain plays a part in impulse control and decision making. When substances are introduced, this area of the brain struggles with the signals it receives from the basal ganglia and extended amygdala, making users want to use that substance again impulsively.
  • Brain Stem – This area of the brain is responsible for basic functions that are essential for life- like breathing and heart rate. When substances are used, it can cause the brain stem not to send the correct signals to the body to perform these functions correctly.

Many substances cause a reaction in the brain that produces euphoric sensations. It was once thought that dopamine was the chemical responsible for this feeling. However, research has shown there may be a new way this chemical works: urging the reinforcement of pleasurable feelings.

It was once thought that surges of the neurotransmitter dopamine produced by drugs directly caused the euphoria, but scientists now think dopamine has more to do with getting us to repeat pleasurable activities (reinforcement) than with producing pleasure directly. (drugabuse.gov)

While substance use may spur a euphoric feeling, it is causing the brain to release the chemical that makes you want that feeling more. This surge in dopamine makes individuals who use substances seek that “reward” of pleasure repeatedly. In addition, addiction can permanently rewire these brain signals, causing changes in behavior.

How Addiction Affects Your Body and Mind

Does Addiction Change Your Behavior and Mind?

If you were to ask anyone that has experienced substance use disorder the question, “Did using substances change your behavior?” chances are the majority of them could tell you at least one way they use affected their behavior. But, of course, these changes may differ based on individual, the substance of choice, genetics, or even sober lifestyle choices.

Some common behavioral changes one may see in substance use include:

  • Different eating habits
  • Different sleep habits
  • Different friends
  • Changes in motivation
  • Legal issues arise if they were not an issue before
  • Losing interest in previously enjoyed activities
  • Issues at home or with friends and family may arise due to attitude changes
  • Issues at work or school may arise due to a lack of motivation
  • Financial issues may arise due to several aspects of addiction

Substance use can cause individuals to change how they behave in several different areas of their life. One common thing is that many individuals seem to feel like while they are inactive, addiction takes over their entire lives, and nothing else can get in the way of the use. Individuals may do and say hurtful things to be able to use. They may notice an increase in mental health disorders or develop new ones. Substance use alters your brain function, which can wreak havoc on your mindset.

How the Body Responds to Addiction

Different substances can affect the body in unique ways. Some may cause more visible changes, while others may cause more internal bodily changes. Regardless of these changes, every substance can permanently change the body and cause irreversible damage. Let’s look at how different substances can cause physical symptoms and changes (internal and external) in the body.

Physical Symptoms And Body Changes Associated With Different Addictions

While looking into how different substances affect the body internally and externally, we must keep in mind that not every one of these changes will occur for every individual who uses these substances. Instead, changes vary based on several factors, including but not limited to the duration of use, amount used, how often it is used, how the substance was used, and genetic makeup.

Cocaine

  • Decreases bone density
  • Suppresses appetite
  • Decrease body weight
  • Persistent cough
  • Tissue death in the nasal and sinuses
  • Lung damage
  • Asthma
  • Shortness of breath
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart Attack
  • Rapidly aging brain
  • Hair Loss
  • Sores around nose

Methamphetamine

  • Hallucinations
  • Damages motor coordination
  • Increased anxiety and rapid heart rate
  • Formication and visible sores
  • Damages blood vessels
  • Dental issues
  • Damaged salivary glands
  • Increases risk of stroke due to weakened blood vessels

Alcohol:

  • Korsakoff’s syndrome
  • Alcoholic cardiomyopathy
  • Weight loss
  • Liver damage
  • Kidney damage
  • Swelling of the legs and feet
  • Impaired brain function
  • Increased risk of stroke

Marijuana

  • Cough
  • Cognitive delay
  • Excess mucous secretions
  • Damage to the bronchial passages
  • Increased heart rate

Some of these changes may be for the remainder of an individual’s life, while some of them may only be temporary. It is important to discuss any health and body changes you notice with your physician. Addiction can cause long-term, life-changing side effects in the body, the brain, and the mind.

Evidence-Based Treatment for Addiction

There are a variety of treatment options available for substance use. Here at Palm Beach Interventions, we offer comprehensive, compassionate, professional care to set a solid and lasting foundation for lifelong recovery. In addition, we provide men, women, and families with the skills and support needed for success in recovery.

The treatment we offer includes a medical detox program, which integrates the treatment for substance abuse with treatment for physical symptoms individuals may experience while in recovery. We also offer acute treatment options, intensive inpatient services, and clinical stabilization services. Our staff of highly qualified specialists is here for you. If you are struggling with substance use, let us help you start the path to recovery today.

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