The Biochemistry of Addiction

March 10, 2015

There are many different parts of the brain with literally billions of different cells. As the different parts of the brain work together in harmony, optimal levels of functioning is achieved. Emotional and psychological trauma can changes the literal cellular structure of the brain. Addiction is a sign that some type of trauma has occurred, even if it is the substance or addictive process itself.

This handout discusses different parts of the brain. Research shows that each of these parts of the brain are involved in addictive and trauma process. Understanding the role that each part of the brain plays will help you as you engage in your healing process.

The cerebral cortex - This is the smart part of the brain. This is the brain that knows what to do in certain situations. This type of the brain knows how to avoid the addiction.

The limbic system - This is the emotional brain. It is made up of the following parts:

  • Amydala - This influences areas that meet the body’s needs such as eating, sex, and the emotion of anger.
  • Hippocampus - This part of the brain is involved in learning, memory, recognition of new things, and spacial relationships. This part of the brain helps to sort out what relevant aspects of events or facts will be stored.
  • The Thalamus - This is the relay station of the brain. This part of the brain sorts, interprets, and directors sensory signals received from the spinal chord and midbrain to the cerebral cortex.
  • Nucleus Accumbens - This part of the brain is what is known as the “reward” or pleasure center of the brain. This part of the brain is reinforced by neurotransmitters to help insure that life sustaining activities are repeated. When ever an individual eats, drinks, or engages in sexual activity, dopamine is released into this part of the brain and the individual experiences the sensation of pleasure. This is what is done when you engage in the addictive process.

Due to the biochemistry of addiction and trauma, an individual can experience a trigger and the emotional brain can react before the cognitive brain has a chance to even interpret what took place. This is the addictive and traumatic process. Treatment is about retraining the brain to employ the entire system of the brain so that it can all work together and hence increase an individuals ability to be healthy.

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