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The Addicted Brain


Nearly 23 million Americans—almost one in 10—are addicted to alcohol or other drugs.

The word “addiction” is derived from a Latin term for “enslaved by” or “bound to.” Anyone who has struggled to overcome an addiction—or has tried to help someone else to do so—understands why.


Addiction exerts a long and powerful influence on the brain that manifests in three distinct ways: craving for the object of addiction, loss of control over its use, and continuing involvement with it despite adverse consequences.


When a person takes an addictive drug — whether it be nicotine, alcohol, cocaine, heroin, or methamphetamine — chemicals travel swiftly through the blood stream into certain key brain regions known as the reward system, which regulates our ability to feel pleasure. With drug use, the circuitry of this system becomes flooded with dopamine. This brain chemical, or neurotransmitter, activates specific sites on brain cells called receptors to increase pleasure and reward. Over time, the brain adjusts to the excess dopamine by decreasing the number of dopamine receptors and the overall amount of dopamine in the brain. Users must then consume more and more of the drug to achieve the same “high.” An addict once addicted seeks the drug in order to feel normal. The increasing miserable feelings of withdraw drives the addict back over and over again.


However, addicts can recover. Although relapse remains an ongoing threat, the brain has a remarkable ability to mend from drug use and find homeostasis. Imaging studies show dopamine levels eventually increase to near normal after months of abstinence. We are spiritual beings housed in a physical body so both area spiritual and physical needs to be a be addressed. Entering into a profound relationship with God increases dopamine levels in the brain and helps to create homeostasis in the body. We are made for God. God can transform your entire life!! He is the missing ingredient that can bring lasting joy and peace. When we have no purpose for living we seek temporary fixes. Make God your purpose for living. In II Corinthians 5:15 and 17 we receive our answer, “Those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them and rose again…Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature: Old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” Our clientele who graduate our programs are tracked 6 months and a year out as a measurement and we are at an 80% success rate of no return to drugs or alcohol use and remain successful with employment and housing.

Rick Briggs, Ph.D., is Director of Programs at Panama City Rescue Mission.

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