One of the scariest things that can happen to anyone is developing an addiction. What few people realize is how common addiction is and how many forms it can take. The best way to avoid getting wrapped up in addiction is to stay informed. “How does addiction affect the brain?” is a question everyone should ask in order to stay aware of the habits that may lead to addiction.

What Is Addiction?

Addiction is much more than just craving a substance or certain stimulus. It’s also not merely a battle of wills. Even for the strongest-minded or most self-disciplined person, addiction can strike suddenly and make drastic alterations to their brain. It’s a disease that makes accommodations for itself by chemically changing the functions of the brain.

The Basics of Addiction in the Brain

“How does addiction affect the brain?” is a question scientists have been asking for generations. In the simplest terms, the brain is designed to issue a sense of reward when you do something good. For instance, laughter releases dopamine, which charges you with that warm and happy feeling. Certain chemicals, such as sugar, also do this. As an example, the brain may begin to associate sugar with laughter and happiness if you often combine socializing with eating addictive, sugary foods. The result is increasing erroneous signals from the brain to medicate your moods with sweets. The same thing can happen with other hobbies and activities—and substances—with which you overstimulate yourself.

How Severe Addictive Substances Alter the Brain

Addiction forms when the use of a substance becomes a disorder. This is called substance abuse disorder, or SUD for short. Lots of habits and substances have an addictive component to them, but the differentiation mostly refers to when interest in a substance or activity invades all other aspects of life. When a person loses sight of friends, family members, work, other hobbies, and even their health, a serious addiction has set in.

Stimulants, for instance, are types of substance that tweak the brain chemically in a way that almost instantly causes an addiction. The use of hard drugs can hook a person so quickly with its chemical alterations that treatment may be needed right away to safely ease the body back down. Even brief brushes with certain chemicals can permanently alter a person, who may need help avoiding such drugs for the rest of their lives.

Falling into an addictive habit is not a sign of weakness, but rather a warning signal that certain chemicals are too dangerous. SUD is a serious disorder that deserves all the care and understanding of any other illness.

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