Addiction: it’s a Brain Thing

Addiction Defined: “ . . . a disease of the brain . . . if you use drugs at a high enough dose, frequently enough and for long enough, you literally change the way the brain works, you change the way nerve cells communicate in such a way that you develop this compulsive, out of control use despite knowing that all kinds of terrible things can happen to you and despite even experiencing many of those things.”    Dr. Steven Hyman

Addiction is a disease that resides in the “Old  Brain.” This is the part of the brain that has to do with survival instincts (fight/flight) and is also where the seat of motivation lies. People living with addiction feel that they “need” the drug in order to survive. It is no longer a question of liking the drug or wanting the drug.

Addiction Affects the Whole Person


  • Distorted thinking
  • Consequences and causes get confused (A person may begin to think that they use because all these bad things keep happening to them, not that the bad things keep happening because of their use.)  
  • Preoccupation with use
  • Constantly thinking of using, getting over use, or planning their next use
  • Set ups and triggers
  • Excuses and rationalizations


  • Neurochemical differences
  • The way the brain works is literally changed
  • Craving
  • Inconsistent ability to regulate one’s use of alcohol and other drugs


  • Consequences that occur as a result of a person’s addiction and their inability to consistently control use leads to painful emotions


  • A person begins to feel helpless, worthless and hopeless
  • Their sense of self, feeling of connectedness and meaning in life begins to deteriorate

There are Many Pathways to Recovery
Individuals are unique; with specific needs, strengths, goals, health attitudes, behaviors and expectations for recovery. Recovery is a process of change that permits an individual to make healthy choices and improve the quality of his/her life.

Recurrence, as with any chronic disease, is possible. Persons living with addiction should develop plans to identify triggers and create solutions and support systems that will help them regain sobriety and strengthen recovery.