How Does the Brain Create the Feeling of Addiction?

Addiction is far from uncommon. Around 10% of adults in the United States will have some sort of drug addiction problem during their lifetime. A partial hospitalization program, intensive outpatient program, or another drug treatment option can help these individuals address their addiction problems. 

Are you or a loved one seeking drug rehab and alcohol rehab? In this article, we’ll explore how substance addictions affect the brain.

How Does the Brain Create the Feeling of Addiction? Northstar Recovery Center PHP IOP OP in Massachusetts

What Makes Drugs Addictive?

There are many reasons people become addicted. One major factor is the rewarding high drugs deliver. The feeling delivers a sense of euphoria and other pleasurable feelings.

While pleasurable, drugs can make it difficult to enjoy pleasure over the long term. This is one reason why drug users often seek stronger drugs. Addiction can also make natural forms of pleasure less pleasurable.

We all understand the natural pleasure of a tasty meal or favorite song. Drugs offer something more, though. The rewards from drug use eventually become more enjoyable than natural rewards.

The Dopamine Factor

You may have heard of the role dopamine plays in addiction. Dopamine is sometimes called the pathway to pleasure.

When a rewarding event occurs, the brain releases dopamine to encourage repeats of that behavior. This process can be healthy. Dopamine may encourage a couple to reproduce, for example.

That pattern can become damaging when the activity is unhealthy. Consumption of alcohol, for example, causes significant releases of dopamine for some people.

Dopamine can cause the brain to value drugs more than safe rewards. Over time, the brain adjusts to enjoy natural rewards less. This can cause someone to feel depressed or sad when they are not doing drugs.

If natural pleasures are a salad, drug use becomes a large bowl of ice cream.

How Drugs Change the Brain

Drug addiction then becomes something of a reflex. Addiction can be triggered by people, places, or other things.

Someone who is addicted to food may be triggered by seeing their favorite restaurant. Cravings can feel intense and uncontrollable. 

Compounding the problem is the fact that most people become tolerant of their favorite substances. Reproducing the pleasurable high of heroin or another substance requires higher and higher doses of that drug. 


Tolerance and dependence tend to rise together. Both symptoms can signify a substance disorder. 

Tolerance refers to the state where the body’s reaction to a drug diminishes over time. Drug users then compensate by consuming higher and higher doses of the drug. This increased use speeds up the addiction progress and can place users at risk of overdosing. 


Physical dependence refers to the need to consume drugs just to feel formal. When the substance is not in their system, withdrawals tend to result. Those symptoms can range from irritation to life-threatening medical emergencies. 

Addiction and dependence are related but they are separate issues. The must be treated as an independent problem. 

The Brain’s Equilibrium

The brain is an intricate organ that requires a careful balance of neurotransmitters to function properly. Drug addiction disrupts that balance of hormones and chemical signals. 

If the imbalance continues for a long time, the addicted person tries to compensate for the effects of drugs. Drug addiction can impact speech, behavior, memory, and person’s emotional state. 

Alcohol and other drugs also introduce toxins to the brain. This can cause parts of the brain to function abnormally.

The hippocampus may even shrink in size, for example. Memory recollection can falter if this happens.

Brain changes can even lead people to become self-destructive as addiction spirals and cravings increase. The urge to consume drugs can become all-consuming.

What Are My Treatment Options?

There is no one therapy option that can address all forms of drug addiction. Northstar Recovery Center in Southborough, MA offers multiple treatment options that can be customized to meet your needs.

Group, individual, and family therapy is one option. For folks who are still in denial about their addictions, group therapy can be a great resource for coming to terms with addiction. 

We also offer partial hospitalization here in Southborough. This is considered the highest level of care. Clinical care and behavioral therapies help patients who are struggling with severe addiction. 

Some of our patients benefit from our intensive outpatient program in Southborough, MA. This program does not require 24/7 time at our facility. Outpatient programs are ideal for folks who need a higher level of care but can still handle home life well.

Outpatients programs allow recovering men and women to continue living their lives as they normally would. They still have access to counseling and clinical support as needed to overcome their substance misuse disorder.

Even with addiction treatment in MA, it is important for patients to have support for the emotional and physical challenges that lie ahead. Successful interventions begin with an experienced team and a comprehensive plan. 

How Does the Brain Create the Feeling of Addiction? Northstar Recovery Center PHP IOP OP in Massachusetts

Learn More About Drug Rehab and Alcohol Rehab

Don’t let addiction stand between you and full recovery. Finding an effective drug rehab and alcohol rehab should be your top priority. Northstar Recovery Center in Southborough, MA has a team of dedicated addiction treatment professionals who are ready to help you.

Our approach helps clients reach stability so they can rebuild their lives and discover how to live free of addictive habits. We do this through evidence-based interventions and compassionate care. 

Contact our office to schedule your consultation. We help people who are dealing with opioids, alcohol, and other forms of addiction. 

Northstar Recovery Center in Southborough, MA is made up of a team of experienced, dedicated, and compassionate addiction treatment professionals. We want to see our community heal from the effects of the opioid epidemic, alcohol addiction, and other substance use disorders.

Partial Hospitalization Program in Southborough, MA

Our partial hospitalization program in Southborough, Massachusetts is the highest level of care we offer. This addiction treatment option includes clinical care and behavioral therapies. During the early days of recovery from addiction, it’s essential to have support for both the physical and emotional challenges you might face. Our team at Northstar Recovery Center in Massachusetts will help you build a strong foundation for lifelong recovery from addiction to drugs and alcohol. Typically, clients come to our addiction treatment center each weekday for several hours of counseling sessions and other interventions as needed.

Intensive Outpatient Program in Southborough, MA

An intensive outpatient program (IOP) in Southborough, MA does not require 24/7 residency at a facility, but it demands more of your time than a regular outpatient program. It is ideal for those who need a higher level of care but are okay being at home. This way the individual can still live their life while getting counseling and support that is still needed in early recovery from substance use disorder.

Individual, Group, and Family Counseling in Massachusetts

Addiction thrives in isolation, which is why group counseling sessions are a foundational part of our addiction treatment plans. In group sessions, you’ll gain perspective on your struggles with substance abuse and can connect with others who understand your experiences. Family counseling can help your loved ones understand the disease of addiction, navigate conflict, and build healthier relationships. In individual counseling sessions, you’ll be able to work through personal issues like past trauma with the help of an experienced therapist.

Contact Northstar Recovery Center

Let us guide you on your journey to recovery from addiction. Connect with our team today.
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