Understanding Addiction

Brain imaging studies have shown addicted people to have structural changes to parts of the brain that control judgement, behaviour, decision making as well as learning and memory.

At first, most people choose to use drugs or drink alcohol. Almost everyone growing up experiments, at least with alcohol. It’s almost a rite of passage when young men and women reach the legal drinking age. Some of these people become addicted to alcohol and other drugs despite their best intentions. They aren’t to blame for being addicted but they are responsible for their recovery. Those who become addicted suffer from “loss of control” – addiction’s telltale sign. Experts now believe that these brain changes may help explain the compulsive, obsessive and devastating behaviour associated with addiction.

Once a drug has been used for a period of time it seems to alter the brain from “normal” to “addict”. Unfortunately, these brain changes can persist long after drug and alcohol use has stopped.  The period of time it takes to alter the brain differs from person to person.

Addicts cannot control their cravings, despite negative results like ill health and social or legal consequences. The addiction worsens and becomes increasingly difficult to treat and the individual’s health and functioning deteriorates.

The Definition of Drug Addiction

One of the definitions of drug addiction is an uncontrollable and compulsive desire for drugs, including the search for and use of drugs despite all the negative consequences. Once addicted, the vast majority of users cannot return to occasional use. Absolute abstinence seems to be the only way to recovery.

Dr Kathleen Brady, an expert on addiction, says that addiction does not develop overnight.

“Generally there’s a series of steps that individuals go through from experimentation and occasional use to the actual loss of control of use. And it really is that process that defines addiction,” she says.

Read part II – Some of the Symptoms of Drug Addiction


Understanding Addiction shows how addiction is a treatable brain disorder and needs to be viewed in light of this. The public’s perceptions need to be re-educated not to regard addicts with little compassion as losers in society but rather to support them in their process to recovery as people who need treatment, much like any other illness.

Understanding Addiction

  • Some of the Symptoms of Drug Addiction
  • Understanding Addiction as a Brain Disease
  • Understanding Treatment of Addiction
  • Helping a Person with an Addiction
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