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Are There Parts of the Brain that Control and Influence Addiction?

A woman struggling with her alcohol abuse at a bar.
Ever wonder why you can’t seem to stop drinking or using drugs? Science tells us that parts of the brain can influence addiction.

Addiction can feel like a wrecking ball, incapable of slowing down or being stopped once it picks up momentum. If you’ve failed at putting an end to your drinking or drug abuse, you may be desperate to understand why.

Why can’t you force yourself to throw out your bottles of liquor or flush your drugs down the toilet? Why can’t you tell yourself and your loved ones that you’re done with all the drinking and drug use and actually mean it?

The answer isn’t that you’re weak or a failure, even if that’s sometimes how you feel. Rather, the reason why you can’t overcome addiction has much more to do with your brain and genetic makeup.

Why You Became Addicted to Alcohol or Drugs

A common misconception about addiction is that it is a choice. Some people even believe that substance abuse is caused by a misguided or confused morality. However, science and biological study of addiction have found that both of these ideas are false.

Your addiction, first and foremost, is a disease that affects the brain and can be treated. Researchers still aren’t 100 percent certain why addiction occurs in some people and not others, but science is getting closer.

Recent research has found that your own genetic makeup could be what has made you more susceptible to addiction. As functional units of DNA, your genes make up your human genome. The human genome is actually 99.9 percent the same between any two people, but it’s that 0.1 percent variation in the genome that can determine if you’re more likely than others to abuse alcohol or drugs.

Let’s Walk Through an Example

We take a look at cannabis use as an example. In a 2019 study, researchers found that the gene known as CHRNA2 may determine if someone using marijuana develops a cannabis use disorder or not. Lower than normal levels of the CHRNA2 gene expressed in the cerebellum indicated higher risk of cannabis use disorder.

Science is also getting closer at narrowing in on the genes that may lead to other types of addiction, like alcohol abuse disorder. In 2019, scientists announced that they had determined at least 566 variants within more than 400 locations within the human genome that influence addiction. In other words, science is helping us narrow down clusters of genes and their impacts on the brain that may cause addiction.

The big takeaway here is that it’s not necessarily a simple matter of choice or morality that triggers addiction. What you’re struggling with is a disease that is greatly influenced by your own genes.

Parts of the Brain that Change with Addiction

Of course, your genetic makeup isn’t the only factor that makes it difficult for you to stop drinking or using drugs. Whether it’s alcohol, prescription painkillers or heroin, the substance(s) you take actually change the way your brain functions.

As described in our first post of this blog series, alcohol and drug abuse trigger a rush of dopamine in the reward system of the brain. Your brain’s basil ganglia and one of its regions, the nucleus accumbens, basically binge on the euphoria caused by the flood of dopamine.

Another part of the basil ganglia, the dorsal striatum, is also impacted by this substance abuse. The dorsal striatum logs the increased level of dopamine within its habit circuitry. Once this occurs, your brain is no longer able to regulate dopamine naturally, requiring you to continue drinking or taking drugs in order to feel good.

Another part of your brain that changes from substance abuse is your prefrontal cortex. Have you ever been in the middle of a high or coming down from its effects and wonder why you can’t seem to make the decision to stop? Part of that is due to the damage inflicted on your ability to make decisions, a function that your prefrontal cortex is responsible for. Substance abuse decreases activity in this region of the brain, making it difficult for you to recognize the dangers of substance abuse.

Get Evidence-Based Treatment to Help Your Brain Heal After Addiction

While genetics may play a role in your addiction, that doesn’t mean there aren’t treatments available and hope for long-term recovery. At The Raleigh House, we take an “east to west” approach to treatment that involves both evidence-based treatments and experiential therapies.

Techniques like medication-assisted treatment, individual therapy and nutrition and amino acids combined with experiential therapies, like equine therapy and rock climbing, can give your brain what it needs to recover and return to normal functioning. Our holistic approach to treatment can strengthen your mind, body and spirit.

If you’re ready to find lasting recovery from addiction, don’t wait another minute. Contact our admissions team today to learn how to get started.

Call Now: 720-891-4657

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