Our brain is a wonderful machinery to keep us alive, but also programmed to keep us balanced and well-being. Lots of complicated processes regulate our emotional states, our motivation, stress reactions, appetite, sleep, sex, relationships with people, and also maintain the balance between impulses to act and action control.


Addiction is a brain disease. This means that it destroys a person’s ability to experience and show emotions, to build and maintain relationships with others, disrupts motivational processes, ruins action control, disturbs stress management, destabilizes sleep and appetite.

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Regardless of what substance the addict takes – whether they are stimulants (e.g. amphetamines, cocaine, methamphetamine) or anesthetics (e.g. opiates, benzodiazepines, alcohol) – or what behavior the addict has become addicted to (e.g. gambling, sex), he or she experiences very similar changes in the brain.


The four basic brain changes in an addicted person are:


1. Desensitization / anesthesia of the reward system


The brain of an addicted person, due to the stimulation of the reward system (the system responsible, among others, for our survival, for encoding pleasure, as well as for motivation), closes dopamine receptors, which in practice means that he becomes “blind” to pleasures other than addiction . Talking to a friend, playing with children, taking a walk, warm cocoa, a trip to the mountains… nothing seems attractive enough. Motivation to act decreases. Many things, things, and actions pale in comparison to addiction. The motivation to drink / use / porn / gamble remains …

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2. Sensitization / sensitivity to specific stimuli in the reward system


Due to the frequent repetition of addictive behaviors, the network of neural connections thickens and becomes sensitive to all stimuli related to the addiction. Certain places, people, situations, and smells activate the network and trigger the process of demanding a given substance or behavior.


3. Hypofrontality / Atrophy of the frontal lobe

The frontal lobe is responsible for controlling our behavior. Due to the extremely strong stimulation caused by the substance and / or behavior, the frontal lobe, regularly flooded with dopamine (the main neurotransmitter responsible for the development and maintenance of addiction), loses its ability to control. The signals sent by this part of the brain are too weak to compete with the extremely strong signals from the limbic part (located in the middle of the brain). Consequently, there is a loss of cells in the frontal lobe. As a result, addicts become more impulsive, they have greater difficulties in controlling their behavior and anticipating the consequences of their actions. Over time, problems with concentration and logical thinking appear, and cognitive functions deteriorate.


4. Dysregulation of stress management systems


Our brain has in its bag both hormones that increase the level of stress in the body, to mobilize us to act, and those that lower it, so that we can calm down, relax, or simply regain balance after a period of increased mobilization. In addicts, this whole complex system works in reverse. The body produces more stress hormones than in a non-addicted person and less of those that calm stress reactions. As a result, addicts have a lower tolerance to stress. They experience anxiety and tension much faster and more intensely, and it is more difficult for them to regain balance.