Neurobiology of Addiction: Unraveling the Brain’s Role


Addiction links to diseases that affect your brain. 

Whether it is the consumption of prescribed pain pills, alcohol gambling, or nicotine, overcoming any addiction is not simple to bring a stop.

Addiction usually develops when the pleasure circuit of the brain gets overwhelmed in a way that can become chronic. At times, these problems can be permanent.

When it comes to addiction, this is what’s at play when you come across a system or pathway that represents the role of dopamine. 

Similarly, when a person develops an addiction to a substance, it is usually because the brain has started to change. This occurs because addictive substance can trigger an outsized response when it reaches the brain. 

In this article, you will discover the role of the brain in the neurobiology of addiction.

What Is The Neurobiology Of Addiction?

Read more about brain games and their effect on the brain here.

It might be complex, but neurobiology is essential in the study of cells of the nervous system and how they interact with one another. 

You tend to be finch and pull your hand away when you touch a hot vessel or feel pain. 

Thus, neurobiology makes you explore how the brain can assist you in making these unconscious and conscious decisions.

For some years, it has been commonly believed that addiction was a choice and some sort of moral failing. Thus, ending the myth is majorly due to the changes in the structure and function of the brain

What Part Of The Brain Causes Addiction?

There are various causes of addiction, and some of them are:

  • Genetics (which accounts for nearly 40-60% of the risk of addiction)
  • Mental health (majorly faced by adults and teenagers as they are at a higher risk of drug use and addiction than the rest of the population).
  • Environment (chaotic home environment, parents using drugs, poor academic performance, peer influence, and abuse)

The recent development of neurobiology studies has shed light on the coping mechanism of addiction, particularly the reward system of the brain. 

Different parts of the brain disrupt at each stage of the addiction process and play a vital role in the onset of substance abuse and its development.

On top of the list is the mesolimbic dopamine system. It refers to the reward pathway of the brain.

This is the key region of the brain that gives us pleasure. With substance abuse, the brain tends to be desensitized to substances, specifically when you consume cocaine, opioids, and alcohol. It eventually results in increased dopamine release, which can reinform your compulsive behavior. 

Substance Abuse Or Addiction Affects Your Brain 

When you are suffering from chronic drug addiction and alcohol addiction, it can cause a significant reduction in grey matter. 

Alcohol use disorder includes a reduction in the size of the frontal lobe, the area that assists us with decision-making. 

If the individual is consuming cocaine for a long time, it will be linked with reduced prefrontal cortex volume. Eventually, chronic opioid use can affect the regions of the brain that manage pain. 

Other areas of the brain that get damaged due to substance abuse are:

1. Cerebellum 

It is responsible for balance and skills; injury to the cerebellum can lead to walking, coordinating movement, and speaking issues. 

2. Stress Response

If the brain is in constant fight or flight mode, the person might be angry, stressed, irritated, anxious, and depressed.

3. Hippocampus 

This region associates your memory and learning patterns.

If the individual has been consuming substances for years, it can impact memory and ability to retain new things.

Treatment Approaches 

Understanding the neurobiology of addiction has paved the way for innovative treatment strategies. 

Thus, targeting the brain’s reward system through pharmacological intervention, such as medication, blocks the effects of drugs and can assist in addiction recovery

However, you can undertake Mindfulness-Based Techniques and CBT or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. These help individuals regain control over their reward system and manage cravings effectively. 

If you feel pressured or want to get rid of the addiction to alcohol or substances, then do not hesitate to contact a psychologist. This will make you think confidential about how one might be able to help you.

Hence, addiction is a highly complex interplay of genetics, neurobiology, and environmental factors, and you should treat it as soon as it is diagnosed.