Drug Addiction Can Warp Decision Making
The human brain is a powerful, extraordinary organ that operates the entire body. Everything we do in our daily lives is possible because of our brain. Talking, eating, and even smiling become regular everyday activities that require little-recognized effort. Despite if it goes unnoticed, the human brain is continuously firing neurons and sending messages all over our body to operate it how we desire. It is quite a fascinating occurrence that, unfortunately, substances like drugs can warp and confuse the process. We are going to explore how drug addiction can distort our decision making on both a neurological and psychological level and the effects of substance abuse on the brain. If you are dealing with addiction, please call 614-502-6247 to stop your addiction today. We can help you kick your addiction and start a happier healthier life.
Neurological Impacts of Drug Addiction
Our brains learn with us as we explore new concepts in the world. We learn not to touch a hot stove, to brake at a stop sign, and say thank you. We adapt to situations using what we have learned from our stored-up memory. What part of the brain controls addiction and what parts of the brain are changed by drug use? This process produces a signal in the brain called an outcome expectancy. This process happens in the orbitofrontal cortex of the brain, and it requires information to build off of in order to deduce and apply its findings for the next upcoming situation.
In other words, this is how we make decisions. Drugs get in the way of this process by disrupting the natural order of things. To put it on a simpler level, drugs act as a goalie in our brains when our neurons are trying to send and receive messages. This goalie is a hindrance because he blocks the messages, or worse, the goalie interferes with the ball.
Drugs can interfere with neurons because drugs actually have a similar chemical structure to a neurotransmitter. To clarify, the neuron is transmitting a signal to another cell. Imagine they are like messengers carrying commands from one cell to another cell, such as the action of walking to muscle cells. Since drugs slightly resemble their chemical structure, they can actually activate or attach onto a neuron. However, the drugs that mess with your brain do not perform in the same way as a neuron transmitter would naturally act. Therefore, it is messy and confusing as the neurons are firing without purpose.
When the drug starts to interfere with the neurons like this, the basal ganglia of the brain becomes overloaded. Its nickname is the ‘reward circuit’ because it is where our brain experiences pleasure through the release of endorphins and dopamine which leads to prefrontal cortex addiction. When the reward circuit is overloaded with highjacked neurons firing, you undergo a drug high. It makes you feel good because endorphins, dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin are all chemicals that link together to cause the feeling of happiness.
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Being High and Adaptation to Drug Addiction
Therefore, drugs make you ‘happy’ for the period time of the high. Which is one of the reasons drugs are so addicting? Your brain grows accustomed to the sudden activation over time and with continued exposure. The brain begins to adapt to the drug as if it is a situation in everyday life to understand. As the brain becomes used to the presence of the drug, it overpowers everything else. Your mind’s sensitivity to other things that activate your happiness becomes less effective. Making it difficult to feel pleasure from anything but the drug itself.
The constant intake of drugs trains the brain to want to repeat the feeling of the high because of the outcome expectancy. From memory, your body and brain begin to crave this new feeling of pleasure. The neurotransmitter dopamine is the little voice inside your head that tells you to remember something. It likes repetitive behavior. Repetition of the actions and decisions that feel good is what it wants. It is how we create our daily habits in our lives that can make us feel comfortable, productive, or purposeful.
A brain that is healthy associates these behaviors, for example, socializing, eating, and exercising as beneficial. But when the brain is subject to drugs, it becomes unhealthy due to the disruptive neurons and pleasure signals. Now the brain believes that the drug should become a repetitive action because it resembles a beneficial behavior.
Repetition and ‘Muscle’ Memory
Since the brain believes that the drug intake is healthy repetitive behavior, then a new habit will be created. Thus, a pattern of taking the drug more consistently, if not eventually daily, will occur. Habits are quite challenging to break when they are not linked to chemicals. Therefore imagine how breaking an addiction connected to your brain might be. The brain now has a craving for the drug. The chemical substance has severely disrupted the neurological highway of the mind. Compromising decision making and overwriting the choices a healthy brain can make.
If you have ever heard of muscle memory, you know that every muscle in our bodies can create a memory of repetitive action. An example of this sports term is practicing a volleyball spike or a basketball dunk repeatedly until it becomes muscle memory. It feels as though you don’t even have to think about it to accomplish the action. Our brain is an organ that has memories attached to people, places, and activities. The example often used is riding a bike.
Your muscle memory and brain remember how to ride a bike even if it has been years. You even may have memories that appear connected to riding a bike from your childhood. If a person who was previously addicted to a drug returns to a location that they once administered the substance frequently, they can experience a strong urge to use it again. The environment has become linked to the drug experience, almost like muscle memory.
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The neurological reward of the drug is still there. The connection builds the association of the neurons firing and the pleasure aspect. The difference between a regular circuit reward and a drug-induced circuit reward is as if someone was whispering to you versus shouting. If the reward of using drugs is so impactful, then just as much as the brain loves it, it now has to adjust to its volume. Soon the brain will reduce its production of natural transmitters because these ‘drug abducted’ transmitters are sustaining its happiness. Sadly, the activities that once naturally rewarded the brain are now insignificant.
Now that you understand how drug addiction begins to affect the brain on a neurological level, we can transition how the drug impacts the human brain psychologically. Neurological is the function of the brain, and psychological is cognitive. Though, it is essential to remember that the neurological and psychological parts of our brain continuously overlap.
So how does substance abuse affect our decision making? After the neurological effects have taken place, the results extend to our frontal cortex, where cognitive thinking and behavioral choices are made. The frontal cortex is where the pros and cons can be weighed and debated before deciding; when we learned not to touch a hot stove as a child, our brain associated the heat with pain. We now know not to touch a hot stove because we do not want to experience that feeling.
But when a brain is operating with drug addiction, the decision-making ability is altered. An addict will continue to ingest the substance even when they know it will cause them harm. Even if deep down, they know that the drug is harmful to them, just like that hot stove. The outcomes don’t make sense and don’t line up. Control and reason begin to twist due to the drug’s effects on the frontal cortex. The high from the drug becomes overvalued, the risk of health damages become undervalued, and the ability to learn from errors become warped.
Are you concerned about a loved one and the psychological impacts their addiction may have? Call us today, and we can help you figure out the right direction to take to get them the proper help they need. Are you looking for help for yourself? No worries! We can help you get the treatment you need to get yourself on the road to recovery.
The Cycle of Drug Addiction
When consequences no longer become a hindrance, a person’s decisions are no longer dependent on the good and bad parts of the situation. Personal health, hygiene, and appearance fall to the wayside. Now the drug is the only thing that seems to make the person happy because they have trained their brain to believe it. With the reduced production of natural transmitters, even watching your favorite movie or eating your favorite food won’t provide the same pleasure. This brutal cycle enhances the decision to take even more of the drug in order to fulfill that feeling of happiness. The tolerance goes up as your brain adapts to this ‘new normal’. Thus creating a never-ending cycle.
In an attempt to stop using the drug, withdrawal occurs. Discomfort produces feelings of stress, anxiety, or physical anguish during the withdrawal. The incentive to escape these feelings is the belief that only the drug can cure it. This is one of the ways people have addictions. The drug is no longer a necessity to receive their high; instead, it is a relief as a means to avoid feeling low.
The choice to resist the urge of the substance will minimize. Overcoming the addiction can be nearly impossible to overcome alone. Since the drug has completely rewired the brain, the power to make logical decisions is slim. Priorities that were once important to the individual now seem small and insignificant. The ability to perform well in one’s job will falter, time with family or friends won’t bring pleasure, and personal hobbies won’t spark joy.
Therefore, in conclusion, drugs absolutely can warp decision making because people who have healthy minds can restrain from their desires. A healthy individual has self-control. One that can distinguish a situation correctly because their judgment is not compromised by a chemical drug that is interfering with their neurons. Their understanding and analysis of a choice at hand is not blocked. Drug addiction becomes a disorder in the brain, and the ability to control one’s impulses is harder to override.
This is why there is professional help. The brain is such a powerful organ in our bodies, and if it becomes reprogrammed by chemical substances, the imbalance can cause illogical actions. Nothing will make sense anymore because disorders don’t follow a logical path. The important take away is realizing that decision making can be altered over time by the administration and abuse of drugs. Remember that deep down the individual knows and wants to heal but doesn’t have the means to. Seeking help is the first step on the road to becoming an active participant in your own rescue.
Are you ready to move forward? Call us today and we can help you start moving forward. Never feel judged or unwanted when talking to a Recovery Hope Treatment specialist. We are here to help you get to start a happier and sober life.