What Can We Learn From the Neuroscience of Addiction?

The human brain is a fascinating and oftentimes mysterious thing. There is so much we still do not know about how and why our brains behave the way they do, but science and knowledge in this area are constantly advancing.

One field which has made particularly large leaps in recent years, for example, is the neuroscience of addiction. That is: how the makeup of our brains can contribute to and be affected by addiction.

This is an area that has been the subject of much research and much debate. As we learn more about addiction in the brain, we also better understand how addiction can be more effectively treated.

The History of the Neuroscience of Addiction

It was not until around the 1930s that scientists first began to study addiction as a neurological disorder. Before then, it was widely (and falsely) believed that those with addiction issues were simply lacking in self-control.

After years of research in the field of brain science, it is now of course known that there are many things that can predispose a person to addiction. Genetics and our environment are just two such factors.

Today we have a much clearer understanding of addiction in the brain. Thankfully, this has meant attitudes of both scientists and society toward addiction have evolved.

Our Understanding of the Addicted Brain Today

One very important discovery made in the field of the science of addiction has been the different chemical reactions that take place in the brain when intoxicating substances are taken. 

When we ingest different substances, our brain emits responses for each. When a person is in a state of intoxication, the nucleus accumbens, part of the "reward" system of our brain, is stimulated. This triggers a release of dopamine.

Dopamine is a "feel good" hormone and once our brain has experienced it, it wants more. This is the reason why addicts often feel a strong urge to repeat the behavior that has stimulated the response.

The problem is that the more often a person seeks out and consumes these dopamine-releasing substances, the less strong the release of dopamine becomes. Meanwhile, the feeling of withdrawal becomes stronger.

How the Neuroscience of Addiction is Being Applied to Treatments

Now scientists and health care professionals understand the addicted brain much more. This will only help in the treatment of addiction.

One positive finding is that studies have shown that although addiction is a lifelong disease, the harmful effects it can cause are in most cases treatable.

As such, in recent years there have been many advances in treatments. Cognitive-behavioral therapy has been successful in preventing relapses for many, for example. In some cases, medications are being used to help improve impulse control. 

Much research has been done about the role of exercise in overcoming addiction.

Progress in this field is being made to this day. We cannot understate the potential for these advances to help those struggling with addiction.

How Understanding Can Help

People struggling with addiction can often experience feelings of shame. It is important to remember that addiction is just that: a medical disorder. Learning about the details of the neuroscience of addiction can help lessen these feelings of guilt and blame. 

If you would like to learn more about addiction, its treatments, and causes, check out our blog here.