Text Size
Smaller
Bigger

Although changes in the brain surely don't cause us to begin experimenting with alcohol or drugs, by the time we become addicted, changes in brain chemistry can make it very tough to quit using.

Addiction and Changes to the Brain? The chronic use of drugs and alcohol can lead to lasting, or even permanent changes in brain structure and function. These brain changes tend to reinforce drug seeking behaviors and make it harder for people to resist temptation.

  • In some cases, changes in the brain result in a diminished ability to experience pleasure without intoxication (diminished dopamine response). People who cannot experience normal pleasure without using drugs have an understandably hard time quitting their use. Drugs that can cause this response include heroin and other opiates, methamphetamine, cocaine and alcohol
  • Changes in brain chemistry can result in temporarily or permanently diminished memory and cognitive function. Changes to activity in the prefrontal cortex alters our ability to make good decisions and to stick to long term plans, and this contributes to the perpetuation of addiction1

Do I Have an Addiction?

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), you meet the diagnostic criteria for addiction if you meet 3 or more of the following.

  1. You have a tolerance
  2. You have experienced withdrawal symptoms when not using – or you take another substance to stave off feelings of withdrawal
  3. You sometimes take your drug of choice in larger quantities or more frequently than you had intended on
  4. You have tried and failed to cut down or quit, or you very much want to quit, but don’t
  5. You spend a lot of time, energy and resources getting, using and recovering from the use of the drug
  6. You have given up activities you used to enjoy because of your drug use
  7. You keep using your drug of choice even though you know it does you physical, social or occupational harm2
References
  • 2. APA , Source APA DSM IV TR Page 197
Email It Send this page Print It Print friendly page Subscribe Subscribe to this topic category

Page last updated Aug 05, 2010

Creative Commons License
Copyright Notice
We welcome republishing of our content on condition that you credit Choose Help and the respective authors. This article is licensed under a Creative Commons License.
Call Now for
Rehab Options
Insurance Accepted
(Except Medicare)
Find Help In...

This website is certified by Health On the Net Foundation. Click to verify. This site complies with the HONcode standard for trustworthy health information:
verify here.