Addiction Is A Brain Disease

     Addiction is a brain disease. As with other brain diseases (schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, autism, etc.), those who suffer have a disadvantage due to our lack of understanding of brain function. The symptoms of addiction often get labeled as "badness".

     There are two primary parts of the brain involved in addiction, the Prefrontal Cortex and the Midbrain (Limbic System). The prefrontal Cortex is responsible for rational decision making, impulse control, and the placement of meaning and value. The Midbrain has one primary responsibility: SURVIVAL. When a person has crossed the "line" into addiction, the drug or behavior is equated with survival and the Midbrain reigns king. With the addicted person, the drug is not just the drug anymore, it is the main way of coping with life. A person can cross the line into addiction at any age, if they are using drugs or participating in addictive behaviors while chronic, unmanaged stress is present. STRESS is the causal agent in addiction.

     STRESS is our body's natural response. As stress hormone levels rise in our bloodstream, our brains are triggered to look for coping mechanisms (such as: The stress of hunger triggers us to eat). When we use those coping mechanisms, neurotransmitters (Dopamine, Serotonin, Norepinephrine, Endorphins) are released in our system, thus decreasing the level of stress hormones and "normalizing" the system. 

     Unmanaged, chronic stressors cause the level of stress hormones to build up in our system. These stressors can come in many forms, such as abuse, neglect, trauma, abandonment, mental illness, divorce, job loss, teenage years, physical injury, to name a few. Living with chronic, high levels of unmanaged stress causes our brain chemistry to change, not allowing us to feel normal pleasure or satisfaction from normally pleasurable or satisfying things. In this state, ADDICTION is born. If drugs are introduced, or are already being used, during this state, the brain will register the pleasure or satisfaction of using the drug because of the massive spike in neurotransmitter levels. These levels are felt when nothing else can be. It is at this point that the drug or behavior is "tagged" as the number one coping mechanism for all incoming stress.

     The above is a simplified explanation, however will allow us to better understand the mechanics of addiction. Understanding will allow us to be more helpful in the solution: practicing and learning new, healthy coping skills in the midst of abstinence. 

     To learn more, email Bob Sharits at