Addiction affects neurotransmitter activity in the brain. This is why addiction greatly impacts how you feel, act and think. When an addict starts to engage in an repeated pattern, whether it be to drugs, alcohol or pornography, his or her brain is changing. The addict may not realize it, but his or her thoughts and views change as a result.
Addiction is literally a learning process. Learning involves the presentation of a new stimuli, which can either be internally generated, such as a thought, or externally generated, like drinking. A stimuli, by the way, is something that elicits a response. This response from just a thought or behavior either reinforces the addictive behavior or weakens it by Long-term potentiation or Long-term depression.
Long-term potentiation, otherwise known as LTP, is the repeated strengthening of a synapse, resulting in a stronger network or neural connection. Long-term depression is the opposite of LTP and decrease the strength of a synapse or neural network.
This is important to know to understand how habits, whether good or bad, increase or decrease.
When an addicts starts using, from the very molecular level, the brains builds a new, but temporary neural network. The repetition of the same experience, such as drug-taking behavior, creates identical neural firing along the same neural network.
With each repetition of either the thought of using or the behavior of using, the neural network is strengthened and over time, this network that was initially temporary, becomes long term. An act of learning has been established.1
An important part of addiction treatment is the process of unlearning destructive memories and cultivating positive ones. To do this, long-term depression needs to happen. When we stop getting caught up in the thoughts of using or quit the addictive behavior all together, the neural pathway becomes weak and a whole new set of thought patterns and behaviors can be created.
Not only are the thoughts of using become increasingly more solidified as addiction perpetuates, but negative emotional states without the drug of choice also increases. Anxiety, stress and depression are common emotions that addicts experience, and addiction feeds these emotions. Negative emotions have also been found to be the main cause of relapse, not physical cravings as once thought.
That is why it is important to understand how to properly deal with thoughts that trigger stress, depression or anxiety. Leanring how to manage, not only your cravings, but also negative emotions should be an imporant part of recovery. And mindful meditation is just as beneficial.
Furthermore, addiction and stress, anger, depression or anxiety is a dangerous combination. This is because the stress system in the brain (related to neuro-endocrine system) alters the way the addict is able to cope with situations.
Thoughts can either be positive or negative. Negative thoughts often increase stress, which activates systems in the brain that are tied to addiction.2 While positive thoughts can have a profound impact in recovery. Increased gratitude, for example, can bring relaxation and comfort, and may help the addict so that his pleasure seeking behaviors aren’t necessary.”3
Often when dealing with stressful situations or negative emotions, people take medications or pills (or your drug of choice) to feel better. However, this only temporarily changes the brain’s chemistry. It doesn’t change the neural pathways. This temporary chemical change from your “drug of choice” only lasts as long as the drug is synthesized to last. It is never permanent. You’ll always have to take another pill, another drink or another smoke to make you feel better.
But when we change our neural pathways, our brain chemistry changes along with it. And this can be an “enduring” change.
Properly retraining the brain has been repeatedly proven to be effective in drug addiction,4 as well as compulsive disorders,5 prevention of depression and anxiety,6 all of which are common emotions that drive an addict to use.7