The Biochemistry of Addiction

by Cindy Hardy | |  

How Does the Biochemistry of Addiction Impact Substance Abuse?

The biochemistry of addiction has several parts that play a role in the way in which someone becomes addicted and how they recover and remain sober. Many aspects of a person’s life can create a positive or negative affect on the recovery process as a whole such as a their family, physical health, spiritual health, friendships, mental health, family history, support system, self-esteem, and et cetera. The primary influence in the development of addictive disorders is biological or neurochemical. This is because addiction can be in preexisting deficiencies in the neurotransmission of the brain. Addictions are primarily addictive responses to substances or behaviors in biologically susceptible people, regardless of their character or personality. This means the foundation for addictive disorders was built before the person ever drank or used drugs.

How Do Psychiatric and Addictive Disorders Develop?

When people develop a psychiatric disorder, it is also primarily related to the neurotransmission system not functioning properly. Malfunctions in this system means too many or too few brain chemicals lead to specific disorders, such as the depressive or manic episodes related to a bipolar disorder. When neurotransmitters are out of balance, the messages they carry become distorted and the world may not make sense, such as in the case of a thought disorder like schizophrenia.

Psychiatric and addictive disorders run in many families in the same way as other medical problems like diabetes and hypertension. It is believed that some people inherit this “predisposition” or tendency to develop certain illnesses. What is likely to be inherited is the biological component of serious and persistent psychiatric disorders like schizophrenia, major depression, and bipolar disorders, as well as substance dependence. A genetic predisposition to a specific disorder does not mean a parent with a psychiatric or substance disorder will always have children with these same disorders. It simply means their children are much more likely to develop the same disorder than children born to parents who do not have these disorders.

Heredity is transported through genes, a crucial aspect of the biochemistry of addiction. Genes are a set of instructions within the cells that direct the manufacture of every structure of the human body. The knowledge that genes influence either common or uncommon behavior across the entire animal spectrum from the lowly fruit fly all the way to humans has long been established. There is no single gene for a specific psychiatric or substance-related disorder. It is a combination of genes that may cause an exaggerated response to stress and an increased susceptibility to these disorders.

Factors Involved in the Development of Psychiatric and Mental Health Disorders

Psychological is the mental and emotional part of a person. The development of psychiatric or substance disorders is influenced, in part, by a person’s beliefs about the world and themselves, how they think, their personality, the ways they cope with stress or problems, and how they act. These factors also influence the course and severity of a disorder, as well as a person’s response to treatment.

Genetics play the major role in the workings of the brain, but they do not tell the whole story of the person. The building of a structure so complex as the human brain needs additional information to complete its formation. This additional information comes from life experiences since each brain is built and changed through life by the interaction of genes with the environment. Multiple genes act together with environmental factors or developmental events to convert risk into actual illnesses.

Aspects of the environment ranging from social influences, life stressors, cultural factors, and early life experiences, such as child abuse, may nudge genes into action and produce disorders. Social interactions with other people also mold behaviors and change the structure of the brain. This is the fundamental reason why psychological “talk” therapy works in changing the brain combined with interactions in group therapy.

An individual’s responses to these disorders are affected by factors like family, community, living environment, and culture. The cultural attitude of the family toward medical disorders of the brain can affect how a person feels about their own disorders. These factors play a significant role in the severity and course of a disorder, as well as the recovery from these illnesses. The earlier a person begins to use substances and the attitudes towards that use also will have a great deal to do with the severity and progression of substance dependence.

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