A Better Today

Science of the Addicted Brain

Get help for addiction and find treatment resources.


Why do People Become Addicted to Drugs & Alcohol?

Why does this happen? For some people especially those without any addictive tendencies, it seems like alcohol and drug abuse is a choice. After all, you enjoy a drink every day or may smoke something every weekend. You don’t crave it. You don’t need it to survive. You’re still holding down a job.

All of these beliefs miss some of the most important key components of drug addiction. First, it is never voluntary. Second, there’s a true science behind what happens and why some people suffer from addiction and others do not. A study out of the University of California San Francisco why some people become alcoholics found that moderate drinking causes an increase in a substance that causes the physical change of the brain. This is a slow process, enhanced by binge drinking or drug use. In short, a person’s genetics determine when this substance impacts the brain, how it does, and what the long-term impact of excessive drinking is.

Genetics play a big role in why some people can tolerate substances and others cannot. But most importantly, consistent and even just moderate alcohol or drug intake will impact the chemistry and makeup of the brain, encouraging long term damage to occur.

Alcohol and drugs are very powerful. They alert the way a person feels in that moment, but they also create long term changes within the body. It’s important to understand, especially when your loved one is suffering from this type of abuse, that they cannot just change instantly.

Get help for addiction now

We can help you navigate things like insurance, programs, and get you help immediately!

Environmental, Genetic, & Situational: The Depth of Active Addiction

Why are people addicted to drugs and alcohol? What is the real reason your loved one can’t get a better control of their addiction? It’s hard to say what impacts each person. Rather, it is more common that many factors contribute and create the perfect storm from which addiction occurs. Factors ranging from environmental, genetic and situational occurrences all come together to change the way the brain works.

In a publication on how addiction hijacks the brainHarvard Medical School points out the following:

  • The move from “liking” to “wanting” occurs because of the pleasure principle. That is, the brain responds to all types of pleasure in the same way, no matter where it comes from. It releases neurotransmitter dopamine, causing you to feel good. It wants to continue to feel good like this. You go from liking an occasional drink to needing it to feel happy.
  • It’s rewarding. It may sound simple, but this is a key area of concern. Like with any animal, child, or adult, a person will repeat things when they receive a positive response from it. The brain does this through the learning process. When an activity – like doing drugs – creates pleasure, it wants to do that again. This impacts memory, motivation, and the pleasure/reward signals in the brain.
  • Tolerance and compulsion follow. At this time, the brain actually changes so much so that the sought-after substance or activity becomes less pleasurable. And, as a result, your body wants that same reward. So you consume more to get the same outcome.

Each of these components contributes to the reason why so many people cannot simply stop their addictive behavior. Addiction runs very deeply, well beyond what many realize.

Why People Can’t Just Stop: Addiction is a Disease

Simply, it is not possible to simply just stop drinking or doing drugs. It is not possible to toss out all of the liquor in the home and never go back. That’s because addiction is a disease. It is not possible to cure cancer, heart disease, diabetes, or any other condition in a single day or with a single decision.

The initial decision to start drinking or to use drugs is voluntary – most people are never pressured to do this. However, over time, continued use changes the body. It causes a person to have limited if any self-control. Research collected by the National Alliance of Advocates for Buprenorphine Treatment indicates that the brain of a drug addict undergoes critical changes.

These changes impact judgment, learning, memory, behavior, as well as decision making. Another way to look at this is that addiction changes the brain and how it works. As a result, individuals cannot simply stop drinking or doing drugs. Their brains are not wired to do that.

In fact, it takes time for drug and alcohol to impact the brain. And, likewise, it takes time to reverse those brain changes. Each individual must develop key strategies to help them to compensate and overlook these changes. It is very hard work. It is emotionally exhausting. And, for many men and women, it is near impossible.

Compulsive and destructive behaviors that occur as a result of drug and alcohol use take a long time to improve. With the help of a professional team, it is possible to learn those strategies so that there can be significant improvement in an individual’s ability to cope.

That’s why seeking help as soon as possible is important.

Trust in ABTRS to provide you with care that promotes long-term recovery.

A Better Today Recovery Service’s approach to drug and alcohol treatment utilizes masters level therapists to properly diagnosis for co-occurring disorders.

Stigma Associated with Addiction

Here’s something to remember. No matter how “bad” it feels to admit you or your loved one has a drug addiction, it is essential to do so. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention note that 40,000 unintentional drug overdose deaths occurred in the United States in 2011. That is a more than 118 percent increase from 1999.

Putting aside that concern for a brief moment, realize that many people who are addicted to drugs cannot admit they are suffering from an uncontrollable situation. While many people do not recognize drug abuse as addiction and not something they can simply stop, neither can those who are struggling with that addiction. They may say things like “I can stop whenever I want.” “I just do it to get rid of some stress.” “It’s no big deal.” Admitting to an addiction is nearly impossible for most people. That’s a critical factor individuals must know before they can take a step towards improving their future.

Drug and alcohol abuse, coupled specifically with mental health disease, can be one of the most frightening situations a person can face. Coming out of it can be a heroic act that many people don’t think they can pull off.

The term stigma isn’t always fully understood, but it is a set of beliefs, negative beliefs in most cases, that people believe against other people. Stigma causes discrimination, exclusion, pain, and violates human rights. When a person is made to feel less than someone else, it’s essential to show them that is not true. Recovering from and preventing stigma is never easy. Stigma can result in self-esteem and mental health complications, it can lead to self-harm, it can also impact a person’s willingness to seek out help.

Individualized Treatment: Healing the Mind, Body, Soul

What is going to change all of this? If you are struggling with the addiction your loved one is facing, it is time to find a path towards improving their lives. It cannot be a simple fix that impacts just the body. Rather, a whole, customized treatment plan must involve treatment for the mind, body, and the soul.

A Better Today Recovery Services provides the tools and resources necessary to help individuals to find a way past the stigma and towards their future. Drug and alcohol treatment must be very specific to the individual’s unique needs.

This often involved intense detox from drug and alcohol dependency to break the physical addiction. Then, it becomes necessary to focus on healing the mind and soul. This is done through intensive group and one-on-one therapy.

Why do people do drugs? The answer may seem nearly impossible to answer. With the help of our skilled team, solutions to help a person step towards recovery are available.

Knowledge Empowers Long-lasting Recovery

Find A Better Way With
A Better Today Recovery Services
Confidential     24/7     Financing Available       Most Insurance Accepted

Get the Facts About Substance Use Disorders From Reliable Resources

At ABTRS, we believe it is important to use reputable sources when communicating with our patients, their families, and potential clientele. Therefore, we have built all our information, statistics, treatment modalities, and practices on reliable resources that are supported by data, scientific methodology and/or testing. A strong foundation for recovery should be built upon knowledge that is impartial, not funded by organizations that could benefit from certain outcomes, and proven or tested to be effective for substance abuse treatment and aftercare. Below are the sources used to construct the content on our website and any and all written material from ABTRS. We will continue to try to provide our patients and their families with reputable sources that are up to date and relevant.

NIDA. (2018, June 8). Heroin. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/heroin on 2019, February 26

NIDA. (2018, June 7). Heroin. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/heroin on 2019, February 26

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. SAMHSA Opioid Overdose Prevention Toolkit. HHS Publication No. (SMA) 18-4742PT4. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2018. 

Medically Reviewed Articles & Resources