It is estimated that every single day 128 people die in the United States from overdosing on opioids. Although addiction can happen with a huge range of substances, nearly 70% of all drug-related deaths in 2018 involved an opioid. However, the number of opioid deaths does not reach the level of those caused by alcohol use. Alcohol is the third leading preventable cause of death in the United States with approximately 88,000 people dying from alcohol-related causes each year. When you combine the number of drug and alcohol use deaths, it is clear that addiction is a huge problem. Almost one in ten Americans are addicted to either alcohol, drugs, or both. Addiction affects a person both physically and mentally, having a negative impact on the brain.
The brain and addiction
Neurons send and receive signals from your brain. They control things like your senses, your movements, and your pain signals. Neurons use neurotransmitters to communicate between cells and send messages through the body. When you introduce a chemical substance such as drugs or alcohol into the body, it has a negative effect on neurotransmitters. The more you introduce a chemical substance, then the more you develop a tolerance that prevents neurotransmitters from working correctly. Substance use particularly affects the following neurotransmitters:
- Dopamine – is known as the ‘feel-good’ neurotransmitter as it is associated with pleasure, reward, and motivation. Substance use can cause an excessive amount of dopamine to be released producing feelings of euphoria, cravings, and compulsive behavior. When dopamine is released, your brain expects a reward – you anticipate what it is you are looking forward to, your brain releases dopamine, you carry out the activity, and more dopamine floods the brain reinforcing the craving. However, if your brain does not get rewarded with what it is craving, then the desire can become even stronger and the drop in dopamine levels ruins your mood. Now you want that craving even more and it becomes a vicious cycle. Substances such as opioids and alcohol cause an overwhelming level of dopamine to be released. Once this has happened, you need more of the substance in the future to get to that same pleasure level.
- Serotonin – is associated with well-being, sleep, sensory experiences, as well as regulating aggression and impulsivity. During intoxication from drugs and alcohol, serotonin levels are increased. However, once the intoxication wears off and withdrawal sets in, serotonin levels drastically drop causing feelings of depression, aggressive behavior, anxiety, poor impulse control, and even suicidal behavior.
- Glutamate – is associated with memory, sleep, anxiety, learning, and has been found to have a significant role in addiction and relapse. In conjunction with dopamine, it maintains addiction through reinforcement and conditioning. A sight or a sound increases glutamate levels, inducing a craving for the substance you associate the sight or sound with. For example, if you associate a specific place with the positive feeling of taking a drug, then simply seeing a picture of that place can increase glutamate levels in the brain causing cravings for that drug again, making it a powerful part of relapse.
Is addiction hereditary?
The American Psychological Association states that at least 50% of a person’s susceptibility to drug addiction is linked to genetics. However, it is not just genetics that play a role in addiction. Environmental factors also have a strong influence. Children surrounded by an alcoholic parent are 2-4 times more likely to suffer from alcohol addiction when they grow up. Other environmental exposures such as socio-economic status, social network, stress levels, and negative life experiences (abuse and trauma) all have an influence on addiction. Mental illness can also mean that a person is more likely to engage in substance use. Therefore, when taking all influencing factors into account, overcoming addiction is a long and complex process. However, with the right support, it is entirely possible.
At denova, we provide comprehensive and integrated treatment for addiction and substance use. Our clinical specialists are dedicated to help you, or your loved one, to overcome difficulties with substance use and addiction. Whether the concern is with alcoholism, cocaine addiction, meth addiction, or addiction to opioids, denova is here to help you and your family through this difficult time. We treat patients as a ‘whole’ and can also assist with any medical, or mental health problems that are co-existing with addiction.
If you or a loved one is struggling with substance use, take the first step. Reach out and speak with one of our addiction specialists today. Click here to view all of our locations and contact numbers, or fill out a contact form. We are here to support you.