There is no doubt that addiction causes a number of noticeable effects. From one’s physical appearance to their ability to regulate their emotions, attempting to hide an addiction as it is occurring can be nearly impossible. However, there are countless effects that are happening under the surface when it comes to addiction, as this disease impacts vital organs and their functions – including the brain. Neuroplasticity and addiction tend to go hand-in-hand, as one’s addiction can deeply impact the brain’s ability to function.
How Does Addiction Impact the Body and Brain?
Addiction to drugs or alcohol can create more challenges than what meets the eye. This disease is pervasive, meaning that the longer it continues, the more severe it gets. In fact, addiction is considered a deadly disease, as refusing to obtain treatment can lead to an early death. Both the body and the brain are subject to several impacts as a result of addiction, many of which may be permanent.
The kind of damage that an individual can experience when addicted to drugs or alcohol can depend on the type of substance they are abusing. For example, someone who is addicted to meth is likely to experience physical effects such as brittle bones, skin sores, and rotted teeth. An individual hooked on alcohol may appear flushed in the face, have visibly dehydrated skin, and an overall disheveled appearance. In the same regard, someone addicted to meth can appear extremely energetic while someone addicted to heroin can seem regularly lethargic and out of touch with reality. While drugs and alcohol can certainly produce varying effects regarding the brain and the body, there are some impacts that are shared across the board. Some of the ways that addiction impacts the body and brain include the following:
- Cardiovascular complications including stroke and heart attack
- Respiratory issues ranging from respiratory depression to permanent lung damage
- Vital organ damage
- Kidney and/or liver damage or failure
- Cognitive problems
- Poor concentration
- Memory loss
- Brain damage
The most severe of all effects of drugs and alcohol on the brain is fatal overdose. This is a possibility no matter what substance is being abused, putting everyone who is addicted to drugs or alcohol at risk. Many of these risks are due to the deep connection between neuroplasticity and addiction.
Do Alcohol and Drugs Change Brain Function?
The definition of the word disease is “the disorder of structure or function in a human, animal, or plant, especially one that produces specific signs or symptoms or that affects a specific location and is not simply a direct result of physical injury.” Addiction is classified as a disease, meaning that it actually changes the structure of the brain and impacts its ability to function normally.
When someone is addicted to drugs or alcohol, it means that they are both physically and psychologically in need of drugs or alcohol at all times. Their regular use alters the function of the brain, causing them to continually abuse drugs or alcohol even if they do not want to. Some of the reasons for this is because mind-altering substances can alter the physical structure of the brain and even break down its functions. A good example of this can be seen when looking at the connection between neuroplasticity and addiction.
What is Neuroplasticity?
Neuroplasticity, which is defined as the ability of the brain to form and reorganize synaptic connections, is responsible for a number of things, including the following:
- Creating new neurons (messengers) throughout the brain
- Establishes new connections known as synapses
- Increases the strength of synapses
- Weakening of synapses that are not being regularly used
Since humans have neuroplasticity in their brains, it means that their brains are continually able and open to learning and developing new habits.This is a great attribute when the things that the brain is learning are helpful and beneficial. Unfortunately, neuroplasticity cannot determine the difference between positive or negative thoughts or habits. This means that someone who regularly abuses drugs or alcohol can cause the brain’s neuroplasticity to rewire itself for the worse. Neuroplasticity and addiction are closely related because of this connection.
Can Recovery Help Restore Brain Wellness?
It is a common misconception that once drug or alcohol addiction stops, life will go right back to normal again. Unfortunately, this is not true. Not only does daily life not return to normal, but the brain and the body require time to heal, too. In some instances, permanent damage can be caused that cannot be reversed.
That does not mean that there cannot be true, effective healing of the brain when in recovery. Since brain plasticity is designed to be flexible, it can begin creating healthy synapses once again, even if they have been damaged in the past. Some studies show that the brain begins to restore itself in some areas around 12 months of recovery, proving that it is possible for this to occur. Specifically, neuroplasticity can help the brain rewire itself to support a life of recovery rather than a life filled with active substance abuse.
Addiction Treatment in South Florida
At the Neuroscience Research Institute in South Florida, we understand how difficult it can be to rebuild after active addiction. Our team of professionals is devoted to helping each and every one of our clients solidify themselves in their recovery so that they can start living a life that is conducive to their overall wellbeing and health.