Alcoholism – How Addiction Hijacks Your Brain

Alcoholism – How Addiction Hijacks Your  Brain

By In Addiction Recovery, Alcoholism, First Steps
Posted May 28, 2015

The word addiction originates from the Latin term meaning “to be bound to” or “to be enslaved.” If you’ve struggled with alcoholism or have attempted to help someone in active addiction, you understands why. Addiction takes us places we never wanted to go and we often end up doing things we never imagined would be part of our story.

How does this happen? Addiction actually hijacks your brain. Like a terrorist on a mission of destruction, it’s sole purpose is to utterly destroy your life. So cunning and seductive, it will whisper lies that we desperately want to believe, and often do.

In order to break free and remain free, it’s important to understand how addiction hijacks the brain.

How Alcohol and Drug Addiction Hijack Your Brain

When we drink alcohol, our brain chemistry is directly affected.

Addiction acts as a false reward system, halts natural production of the ‘feel good’ chemicals we are supposed to receive when we do things like eat food, play with our pet, get some sun, or talk to a friend, and instead manifests in three distinct ways:

  • Craving for the object of addiction
  • Loss of control over its use
  • Continuous involvement with the substance, despite adverse consequences

You may already be aware that addiction greatly affects the brain, especially if you have personally struggled, but this information is relatively new to many. When alcoholism and addiction were first researched, it was believed that people bound by addiction were somehow lacking willpower or morally flawed. Punishment was (and often still is) used to “redirect” those who were caught in this destructive cycle.

Today we recognize addiction as a chronic health condition —a disease— that changes both brain structure and function. Just as diabetes affects and often impairs vital organs, addiction hijacks our brain. But isn’t willpower involved in addiction recovery? Of course, but it’s not as simple as just saying no. Addiction recovery is typically a process involving multiple strategies. It can include help from a treatment center, psychotherapy, recovery based group meetings, medication, nutrition, exercise and other forms of self-care. The most important element we have found in recovery is the realization that at it’s core, addiction is a spiritual malady. Bottom line, we have an empty space we are trying to fill.

Another shift in our knowledge about addiction has occurred as well. The medical community once believed that only alcohol and certain drugs could cause addiction. Recent neuroimaging technologies now show that certain pleasurable activities, such as sex, gambling, and even shopping can also hijack the brain. This directly upholds the “spiritual malady” theory. We have a need, an emptiness, and we want to fill it. The way we choose to fill our need ends up as multiple expressions of a common underlying brain process.

Alcoholism, Long Term

With all the research available on the long term effects of alcoholism, it is absolutely critical that we understand what lies ahead for addicted individuals who don’t seek help:

  • The Human Psycholpharmacology published a study that showed how the brain can be structurally and functionally affected by alcohol. Their research showed that the brain actually shrinks in volume after even low to moderate alcohol consumption.
  • Long-term use of alcohol can lead to Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, a brain disorder that is caused by vitamin B1 deficiency. Alcoholism is actually the number one cause of this disorder.
  • Chronic alcohol use can lead to the brain adapting to our habits. Instead of use being able to make complex decisions and actually think a problem through, our brains shift those thoughts away from the prefrontal cortex, which controls emotions and decisions, and towards the darsal striatum, which is where we form habits.

Unfortunately, the effects on the brain caused by alcoholism don’t always disappear as soon as we are sober. They can last for months, years, and even be permanent. Consider Wernicke’s syndrome, which affects 80% of alcoholics. Of those 80%, 80% to 90% of alcoholics also develop something called Korsakoff’s psychosis, which can lead to problems with coordination and walking, as well as forgetfulness and memory issues. In patients in the early stages of this syndrome, vitamin B can be supplied to renew brain function. For those who have been living with it long enough for permanent brain damage to occur, only support in dealing with the results can be offerred.

Alcoholism is much more than hangovers, bad decisions and a few blackouts. It can cause serious damage to your brain that could become permanent if left untreated. Seek out the alcoholism treatment you deserve today by contacting the Shores Treatment and Recovery.


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