When people first begin abusing drugs or alcohol, they typically don’t understand how addiction can completely take over their life. Contrary to popular belief, addiction isn’t simply a choice—it’s a disease. Continued drug abuse alters the brain in ways that have a long-lasting impact, even when sobriety is achieved.
The problem occurs in part because of the way our brains reward certain behaviors and help us gauge the consequences of our actions. As addiction develops, your brain’s pleasure and reward circuits alter to the point where you are no longer able to fully appreciate the dangers of alcohol and drug abuse.
Rather than identify the dangers of substance abuse, your brain becomes focused on the pleasure associated with drugs and alcohol. Over time, the pleasure is outweighed by feelings of stress and anxiety that grow stronger and stronger until you are able to use drugs or alcohol again.
This process ultimately damages your brain’s prefrontal cortex, which enables further destructive decisions regarding the use of drugs and alcohol. Quite often, this also results in behavioral changes and increasingly risky behavior in an effort to gain access to drugs and alcohol.
While treatment and counseling can help individuals overcome their addiction and achieve sobriety, relapse is always a possibility due to the changes that have occurred in the brain. The sooner you seek help, the more likely you are to avoid truly destructive consequences of this disease.