From their relationships and friendships to their working life and day-to-day social interactions, addiction can have devastating consequences for addicts and their loved ones.

Within this article, we will look at what happens in the brain with addiction.

What causes addiction?

Anyone can be susceptible to developing an addiction in their lifetime and there are a number of different factors that can cause addiction, including the following:


  • Family history of addiction
  • Peer pressure
  • Mental health disorder
  • Bereavement
  • Using a harmful substance from an early age
  • Taking a highly addictive drug


What role does the brain play in addiction?

It was once widely believed that people were unable to overcome their addictions simply because they didn’t want to, or didn’t have enough willpower. Today, however, addiction is recognised as a disease that can impact both the structure and the function of the brain.

The brain is the most dynamic, powerful, and complex organ in the human body, and it is constantly adapting to different environments and stimuli. It regulates temperature, emotion, decision-making, and breathing, as well as physical sensations, cravings, and compulsions.

The powerful chemicals found in drugs and other substances alter the function of the brain, impacting the addict’s mind and body.

What happens to the brain when someone develops an addiction?

Addiction sees the brain go through a process of pleasure recognition and learning, to tolerance and compulsion.

When an addict consumes a harmful, addictive substance, this ignites an intense stimulation of the brain’s reward system, which is responsible for triggering the cravings and habits that cause addicts to become addicted. A surge of dopamine is released into the brain’s reward centre, creating a powerful feeling of pleasure.

This starts to develop into an addiction when dopamine interacts with another neurotransmitter, known as glutamate. This takes over the brain’s reward-related learning system, which is involved in motivation, memory, and pleasure, and overload it.

If the brain is repeatedly exposed to the substance (or behaviour, in the case of addictions such as gambling), the brain is driven to seek it out – that’s when cravings occur.

Of course, over time, the brain adapts. When its receptors are overwhelmed, it produces less dopamine or eliminates dopamine receptors. This means the dopamine has less of an impact on the reward centre, and the substance no longer delivers the pleasure or high that the addict has become used to.

This tolerance leads to compulsion. The brain can remember the pleasure or reward the substance or behaviour delivered, and wants to recreate this feeling. When the brain encounters the emotional cues related to the memory of the reward, intense cravings occur, and compulsion takes over the addict’s thought processes.

This is why addicts struggle to give up the substance that is causing them so much harm and can relapse, even many years later.

Why choose ANA Treatments?

Here at ANA Treatments, we provide individually tailored detoxification programmes that have been carefully designed to help our clients to rebuild their lives, gain confidence and re-discover their self-worth. Our mission is to provide our patients with the resilience and tools they need to live a healthy, responsible and productive life, free of addiction.


For us, it’s all about encouraging recovery through support, respect and teaching vital life skills. For further information about our drug and alcohol rehabilitation in Hampshire, please get in touch.