How does drug addiction change the wiring in the brain?

Drug addiction has been called a lot of things: a condition, a disease, a psychiatric impairment. What we can be certain of is that drug addiction – any addiction, in fact, whether it is to drugs or sex or food – changes the wiring of the brain.

Understanding how drugs can affect the brain allows us to understand how we can better treat drug and alcohol addiction. This article will explain how different drugs can influence brain chemistry and help you decide if you need drug and alcohol rehab San Diego.

Drug types & their effects on the brain

The first thing to note is that there’s a difference in the way that drugs affect the brain.

Some drugs directly affect the brain by causing changes in the types of chemicals produced by the brain. Stimulants, for example, often affect the brain’s dopamine system. Other drugs might work on serotonin or the GABA system.

These drugs will affect the systems that they directly work with. This can cause a number of problems on its own, but unfortunately, the very nature of addiction itself can also cause other problems.

How addiction influences the brain’s reward circuit

It’s not just because drugs cause our brains to produce different amounts of chemicals that they produce changes. Any sort of repeated, addictive behavior can cause our brains to act in different ways. While this is especially true for drug addiction, the same is true for people who have addictions to sex, gambling, or food.

This is because of the way that these drugs mimic our brain’s natural reward system. This system is a feel-good system that typically ‘kicks in’ when we complete something that is evolutionarily rewarding. This might mean having sex, eating a good healthy meal, having children, or accomplishing a task.

Drugs, however, produce these feelings of reward without us actually needing to accomplish anything. Instead of working hard for our rewards, we mimic the reward response by flooding our brain with chemicals – often dopamine, the main ‘reward chemical.’

Over time, this desensitizes the brain from its naturally-produced dopamine. This makes it more and more difficult for people to experience the pleasure of their daily accomplishments. After months or years of regular addictive behavior, these changes can actually be physically observed in the brains of people who have an addiction.

Fortunately, in the same way, that these changes are made, they can also be reversed. However, this often takes a lot of time, determination, and above all, sobriety.

As your brain becomes sensitized to dopamine again, it will begin to respond more effectively to the dopamine that it produces on its own. This means that you can rewire your brain so that you feel good when you should feel good.


If you or a loved one are struggling with drug addiction, then don’t hesitate to look for drug and alcohol rehab San Diego centers. Drug and alcohol counselors and therapists can help you restore a healthy balance to your brain so that you can enjoy the natural sense of reward once again.

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