Addiction Recovery
By BrightView
Published: September 7, 2023
Updated: September 11, 2023

Medical Evidence Shows Addiction’s Biological Impact on the Brain

You’ve probably heard this statement before, “addiction is a disease, not a choice.” And if you don’t agree, you may not understand the science behind addiction.

A Disease Caused by Multiple Factors

Like heart disease or diabetes, addiction can be caused by a combination of factors. These include behavioral, psychological, environmental, and biological factors.

Countless studies have shown the biological impact of addiction. Using illicit drug or misusing prescription drugs creates a shortcut in your brain’s reward system. The drugs flood your brain with large amounts of dopamine – the reward. And this is felt as either euphoria or pain relief.

Your brain changes over time, receiving less pleasure from those same addictive drugs. As dopamine affects you less and less, it takes even more drugs to achieve the same “high.” This is called tolerance, and it applies to all types of substance and alcohol use disorders.

Even if you can’t get the same pleasure from the addictive drugs, you clearly remember when you did. These memories create a conditioned response—an intense craving—whenever you encounter something that reminds you of that pleasure. As an addiction develops, it creates a compulsion to continue taking an addictive substance, such as alcohol or opioids.

Biological factors also include genetics. Up to half of a person’s potential for developing a substance use disorder (SUD) is due to genetics. Environmental factors including childhood trauma, parents’ drug use, or peer influences also contribute to someone’s path to addiction.

Addiction can be caused by a combination of factors, including behavioral, psychological, environmental, and biological.

How Recovery Can Heal the Brain

Addiction recovery can help individuals develop new behaviors and routines that help “retrain” the brain. The journey of recovery requires the brain to re-activate its natural processes without the help of addictive substances. The brain also heals when a person in recovery addresses their emotional needs like forgiving themselves and pursuing healthy relationships.

This healing and retraining are possible due to neuroplasticity — the brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life. Neuroplasticity allows the brain’s nerve cells to compensate for injury and disease and to adjust to new situations or to changes in their environment.

Compassion, Not Judgement, Is Key

Instead of assuming addiction is a choice, reinforcing a stigma, we need to stop and recognize this bigger picture. Taking these multiple factors causing addiction, it becomes easier to have compassion for someone in recovery. Consider this BrightView team member’s story when it comes to understanding how critical compassion is to recovery.

“My family giving me empathy and compassion has been the most beneficial to my recovery. I didn’t want to feel judged or condemned by them because of my addiction. What I found is the more I stayed sober and was in a program, the more friends and family wanted to get to know me. It all started with compassion.”

Treating Patients as People and Addiction as a Disease

If you or someone you know is currently dealing with a substance use disorder, BrightView can help you start on the road to recovery. Addiction is a chronic disease, and recovery is possible with the right treatment and support.

Learn more about our proven outpatient treatment program and how our comprehensive approach to treatment helps people change their lives. Contact us today at 833.510.4357. or schedule an appointment at one of our treatment centers.