Are brain diseases associated with alcohol and drug addiction? In the past, people considered addiction to be a flaw in a person’s character. Something that they could control if they wished, but would rather indulge in drugs and alcohol. People who suffered from addiction were often thought to be bad people who only thought about themselves and what they wanted to do.
That is just not the case anymore. According to the American Psychiatric Association, addiction is a complex brain disease that causes a person to engage in compulsive substance use despite the harmful consequences. People who are suffering from an addiction have an intense fixation to use the drug or alcohol despite the negative impact it is having on their life and the people around them.
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Addiction causes changes in the chemical balance of a person’s brain, which makes it difficult for them to discontinue use. Like other diseases, developing an addiction can cause serious harmful consequences but it is preventable and treatable. In order to overcome addiction, most people need treatment in the form of medications and behavioral therapy.
Brain Diseases and Addiction
While it is known that having a drug or alcohol addiction can cause a myriad of physical and mental health consequences, it is less commonly known that having certain brain diseases can actually make a person more susceptible to developing an addiction.
Oftentimes, drug use and other mental health disorders coexist. Sometimes, drug use can trigger or worsen mental health conditions. Other times, having a mental health condition can cause a person to engage in alcohol or drug use to alleviate their symptoms. People who suffer from certain brain diseases are actually more likely to develop a drug or alcohol addiction as a way to cope with the symptoms of their preexisting disease.
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Brain diseases that occur prior to a person developing an addiction to drugs or alcohol are depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia.
Depression is a brain disorder that involves feelings of sadness, loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed, changes in weight, problems sleeping, loss of energy, feeling worthless, and thoughts of death.
Anxiety is another brain disorder that causes a person to have an inappropriate response to a situation, cannot control their response, and alters their life due to anxiety.
Schizophrenia is also a brain disorder where people hear voices or see things that aren’t there. Symptoms include unusual thoughts or perceptions, disorders of movement, difficulty speaking and expressing emotions, and problems with memory, attention, and organization. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIH), people who suffer from schizophrenia have higher rates of alcohol, tobacco, and drug use disorder than the general population.
Other mental health disorders that can lead to addiction are generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), psychotic illness, borderline personality disorder, and antisocial personality disorder. People who suffer from these mental health conditions are most susceptible to developing an addiction.
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The reason that some people with brain diseases like anxiety or depression turn to drugs or alcohol is that they try to relieve some of their psychiatric symptoms. This is known as self-medication. However, turning to drugs or alcohol is a maladaptive coping mechanism and can actually make a person’s mental disorder worse and increase a person’s risk of developing an addiction. While having a certain mental health disorder can increase a person’s risk of developing an addiction, there are also other biological factors that influence whether or not a person will develop an addiction.
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Biological Risk Factors
Besides brain diseases, there is a wide range of other biological factors that impact a person’s risk for drug abuse and addiction. These risk factors include a person’s genetics, developmental stage, genetics, and ethnicity.
Genes play a huge role in determining whether or not a person will develop an addiction. Having a family member who suffers with addiction can increase a person’s risk of becoming addicted. People who have family members who suffer from addiction are thought to have a 40 to 60 percent chance of also developing a drug addiction.
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The developmental stage a person is in also contributes to their chance of developing a drug addiction. The earlier a person starts taking drugs or drinking alcohol the more likely they will become addicted later in life. This is because the brain changes a lot during adolescence and in the teenage years a person’s brain is still developing. Drugs alter the chemical balance of the brain which can have long-lasting influences on a still-maturing brain.
Also, having a mental disorder in childhood or adolescence can increase the risk of later drug use and the possibility of developing an addiction. Having untreated childhood bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, and ADHD can actually put a person at a greater risk of developing a substance use disorder later on.
A person’s gender can also impact drug addiction. Women are more likely to become addicted to drugs that are used to treat anxiety or sleeplessness. Men are more likely to become addicted to drugs such as alcohol and marijuana.
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Ethnicity is another risk factor for developing an addiction because some ethnic groups are able to metabolize drugs faster than others. This can impact a person’s sensitivity to the drug.
There are many biological factors that can contribute to a person developing an addiction. People who are suffering from certain brain diseases can engage in drugs and alcohol as a way to block out their symptoms. While this may temporarily work, it can actually worsen their symptoms as well as cause a person to become addicted to substances.
Drug or alcohol addiction impacts every aspect of a person’s life. The only way to get back to normalcy is to overcome that addiction. Attending an alcohol addiction rehab is a great idea for someone who is having trouble overcoming their alcohol addiction on their own.
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Rehab clinics provide a person with medications and mental health therapy to help a person overcome their addiction. For a person with a pre-existing mental health disorder, the treatment that an inpatient rehab clinic can provide can not only help them overcome their addiction but also get to the root of their problem, which is their mental health illness.
Written by: Stephanie Moloney
- Common Comorbidities with Substance Use Disorder Research Report. National Institute on Drug Abuse.
- Do You Know Your Risk for Addiction? Scholastic.
- Inpatient Alcohol Rehab Center. Sunshine Behavioral Health.
- Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders. MentalHealth.gov
- What are the other health consequences of drug addiction? National Institute on Drug Abuse.
- What is Addiction? American Psychiatric Association.