When talking about the topic of addiction treatment, so many people think that addiction is something that has to do with the “mental weakness” of the individual, and that addiction can be overcome by sheer willpower alone. This is not the case because the brain is an amazing and complex subject. There are physical and psychological factors at play, including neurochemicals in the brain, as well as the region of the brain involved with addiction.
When answering the question of what part of the brain controls addiction, we need to understand the mechanisms carried out by neurotransmitters, the brain’s “chemical messengers.” Substance addiction and dependence are symptomatic of a brain disorder caused by disruptions in its processes and neurotransmission. Because substances like drugs or alcohol can have an impact on how chemicals in the brain interact, this is what will either trigger addiction or prevent people from overcoming addiction. Substances can alter how people think, feel, and behave, which is partly due to the disruption of neurotransmission signals. There are three key neurochemicals that play a role in dependence on a substance:
This neurotransmitter carries out a number of physiological duties. Substances such as alcohol and drugs can impact serotonin levels by increasing these levels.
Dopamine is the “happy chemical” in our brain. Substances can have a long-lasting impact on our dopamine processing levels. When our dopamine levels rise, they increase the threshold for pleasure. This means that when people are not using substances, they can experience major emotional lows, so they may need to continue using to achieve the same level of “euphoria.”
These are the “feel good” chemicals in the brain that can reduce our perception of pain and make us feel more euphoric. However, this can be detrimental to those attempting to recover from an addiction. Because endorphins trigger the reward centers, this can have a serious impact on an individual’s ability to give up something that provides such a strong emotional response.
What Part of the Brain Controls Addiction?
While neurotransmitters play a key role in addiction, it’s important to note that addiction is a complex disease that can stem from multiple sources. Mental health, genetics, and the environment can change how someone interacts with specific substances. In the brain, the neurotransmitters have an impact, but there are also two parts of the brain that can highlight how a brain controls addiction.
The extended amygdala controls our response to stress, for example when dopamine is flooding our brains, stress neurotransmitters can surge within the extended amygdala, pushing the brain to escape unpleasant situations. Additionally, the prefrontal cortex is another part that can control addiction. The basal ganglia in the prefrontal cortex can work with the extended amygdala to control the drive to seek pleasure and can also ramp up physical and emotional distress when someone is not taking a substance. As substance dependence increases, this explains why people are opting for continual use, as it provides relief from the symptoms of withdrawal.
Why a Holistic Treatment Is Essential to Addiction
When treating addiction, it’s important to remember that everybody is an individual. But when we are looking at the impacts of someone experiencing the symptoms of addiction, we can look at it from the perspective of what occurs within the brain. Neurochemicals, in conjunction with parts of the brain, can highlight how someone develops an addiction, but we have to remember that addiction is a complex disease and it can vary in severity from person to person.
Because there are a number of areas that can contribute to the severity of addiction, as well as the substances chosen by the individual from drugs to alcohol or even prescription medications, this requires an approach to healing that is holistic and diverse.
It is also important to note that many people experiencing addiction can also have a co-occurring mental health disorder at the same time. Addiction is something that occurs at varying levels, which is why when it comes to delivering relevant support, treatment methods cover a diverse range of tactics. We can address the subject of addiction as something that is purely a chemical imbalance in the brain that can contribute to disease, but we can also look at it from a different prism, one where it is a combination of chemicals, mental health problems, and an unsupportive environment.
Disease and addiction can be overcome through a variety of methods that make the individual understand that it has to do with chemicals, but there are also ways to relieve the relationship with the substance.