Open Accessibility Menu
How Addiction Affects the Brain: The Neuroscience of Compulsive Behavior

How Addiction Affects the Brain: The Neuroscience of Compulsive Behavior

Silver Ridge

When scientists first began studying addiction in the 1930s, it was widely accepted that people who were addicted to drugs or alcohol were morally flawed and simply lacked willpower. This led to a widespread view in society that addiction was a moral failing, rather than the brain disease it’s known to be today.

Incredible discoveries through scientific research have led to a much better understanding of addiction. As it turns out, addiction is the result of real and tangible changes in brain function that affect thought and behavior, and it’s regarded by the medical community as a disease that can be systematically diagnosed and successfully treated.

Unfortunately, few people among the general population understand why and how addiction develops and how treatment works to end an addiction for the long-term. The stigma of addiction as a moral failing persists in many circles, making things more difficult for people who are addicted to drugs or alcohol.

In this eBook, we aim to help you understand the complex ways in which drug and alcohol abuse affect brain function and how these changes may lead to a compulsion to use drugs. Once you understand how addiction’s compulsive behaviors develop, it’s easier to see how treatment can help an individual successfully end even the most severe, long-term drug or alcohol addiction.

Neuroscience 101: Neurons and Neurotransmitters

Your brain is a highly complex network of about one hundred billion neurons. Neurons are nerve cells that transmit information throughout the body by sending chemical and electrical messages back and forth thousands of times a minute, controlling everything we think, feel and do.

At the receiving end of a neuron, branched structures known as dendrites receive an electrical signal that is transported into the cell body, where it’s processed. From the cell body, the signal travels into a long, slim nerve fiber known as the axon. The neuron terminates at the end of the axon.

Between neurons is a gap known as a synapse. When one neuron needs to relay an electrical message to an adjoining neuron, it manufactures chemical messengers known as neurotransmitters. The neuron stores these chemicals in little packets called vesicles. The electrical signal causes the vesicles to open up and release the neurotransmitters into the synapse.

The neurotransmitters travel across the synapse and, like a key in a lock, link up to specialized receptors on the receiving neuron. Once the message has been received by the receiving neuron, the neurotransmitter molecules disconnect from the receptors and move back into the synapse, where they re-enter the sending neuron through a special structure called a transporter. Once back in the sending neuron, the neurotransmitters become available again to send future messages. The process of neurotransmitters moving back into the sending neuron is known as “reuptake.”

Scientists have identified dozens of neurotransmitters, and each individual neuron manufactures one or more of them. Each type of neurotransmitter produces particular effects, depending on what area of the brain it acts on.

Neurotransmitters Affected by Drugs

A number of neurotransmitters are affected by…


Want to read more? Download the entire fully illustrated eBook.

Categories:

Focus, Healing, and Recovery

Life at Silver Ridge is purposely designed to provide the safest and most restorative healing environment on the East Coast. If you would like to learn more about Silver Ridge or begin addiction treatment today, please call (855) 945-7788 or fill out the form and one of our admissions staff will be in touch with you soon.

  • Please enter your First Name.
  • Please enter your Last Name.
  • This isn't a valid phone number.
    Please enter your phone number.
    You entered an invalid number.
  • This isn't a valid email address.
    Please enter your email address.
  • Please make a selection.
  • Sivermist
    Sivermist Sivermist

    Offering luxury residential treatment at a private residence in rural southwestern Pennsylvania.

  • REAL Recovery
    REAL Recovery REAL Recovery

    Providing high-quality, adventure-based and personalized care with four sober homes for men ages 18-28 in Asheville, North Carolina.

  • High Focus Centers
    High Focus Centers High Focus Centers

    The premier provider of structured outpatient behavioral health and addiction treatment programs in New Jersey.

  • Rehab After Work
    Rehab After Work Rehab After Work

    The leading provider of outpatient drug and alcohol treatment programs in Pennsylvania.

  • Pyramid Healthcare Inc
    Pyramid Healthcare Inc Pyramid Healthcare Inc

    A premier provider of behavioral healthcare founded in 1999 offering a full continuum of recovery services for adults and teens at 24 locations in PA.

  • Life Counseling Services
    Life Counseling Services Life Counseling Services

    Offering professional counseling and psychiatric services for children, teens, and adults at over 20 locations in Pennsylvania.

  • The light program
    The light program The light program

    Treating individuals in crisis or struggling to function through mental health Intensive Outpatient programs at locations in southeastern Pennsylvania.

  • Seeds of hope
    Seeds of hope Seeds of hope

    Providing specialized Intensive Outpatient eating disorder treatment for teens and adults in southeastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

  • Mazzitti & Sullivan EAP
    Mazzitti & Sullivan EAP Mazzitti & Sullivan EAP

    Providing comprehensive Employee Assistance Program services to employers nationwide.

  • Mazzitti & Sullivan
    Mazzitti & Sullivan Mazzitti & Sullivan

    Providing behavioral health services in central Pennsylvania since 1983, now operating five different locations.

  • Tapestry
    Tapestry Tapestry

    Tapestry Eating Disorder Treatment Centers

  • Pyramid Family Behavioral Healthcare
    Pyramid Family Behavioral Healthcare Pyramid Family Behavioral Healthcare

    Serving the Atlanta, Georgia area adolescents and adults suffering from Mood Disorders.

  • October Road Inc
    October Road Inc October Road Inc

    Serving the Asheville, North Carolina area with high-quality mental health and substance abuse treatment since 2006.

  • Walden
    Walden Walden

    Offering treatment & support options in Southern Maryland for those struggling with addiction and mental health.