The neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine send messages to the brain and the rest of the body. The altered brain chemistry essentially requires constant, repetitive exposure to the substance or action to function psychologically and physiologically. This chemical dependence leads to tolerance and withdrawal symptoms, two of the hallmarks of substance abuse addiction that most often require a professionally monitored alcohol and drug detox. In the fourth stage, the individual does not only need the substance or the activity for pleasure; they need it for normal functioning. Dependence brings on extremely negative feelings without the substance or activity of choice. The cravings are more intense at this stage, and the individual will go to great lengths to sate those cravings.

Fortunately, researchers know more than ever about how drugs affect the brain and have found treatments that can help people recover from drug addiction and lead productive lives. Different classes of chemically synthesized (hence the term synthetic) drugs have been developed, each used in different ways and having different effects in the brain. Synthetic cathinones, more commonly known as “bath salts,” target the release of dopamine in a similar manner as the stimulant drugs described above. To a lesser extent, they also activate the serotonin neurotransmitter system, which can affect perception.

Stage 1: Experimentation

Although personal events and cultural factors affect drug use trends, when young people view drug use as harmful, they tend to decrease their drug taking. Therefore, education and outreach are key in helping people understand the possible risks of drug use. Teachers, parents, and health care providers have crucial roles in educating young people and preventing drug use and addiction. Neurons are organized in clusters that perform specific functions (described as networks or circuits). For example, some networks are involved with thinking, learning, emotions, and memory. Still others receive and interpret stimuli from the sensory organs, such as the eyes and ears, or the skin.

cycle of addiction

Some people remain in this phase because they don’t have sufficient information about addictive behavior. The frustration from several failed attempts at quitting can also make a person believe recovery is impossible, keeping them stuck in this stage. Recognizing and understanding the cycle of addiction is a fundamental step on the road to complete recovery. Typically, the addiction cycle involves periods of heavy substance use, separated by periods of self-imposed clean living, which can give a person the impression that they can quit the addiction by deciding not to use anymore. This thinking is deceptive because following any period of sobriety, if a person starts to use substances again, the addiction gets reactivated in the brain, and the cycle of addiction starts all over.

How are addictions treated?

It can happen through something as common as starting a new prescription drug to manage pain, through peer pressure to try an illicit drug, or even celebrating one’s twenty-first birthday with an alcoholic beverage. Regardless of what exactly led to the first encounter, the Mayo Clinic describes several risk factors that might lead someone to have a higher risk of addiction. These risk factors include depression, social issues and problems, enabling family members or peers, abuse or neglect, family history of substance abuse or other mental disorders.

Your provider may want to do a physical exam and may request blood and urine tests. We create community for women seeking freedom from addiction, empowering them to thrive. Substance use disorders and toxic relationships are a potent mix that can be life-threatening. Neurons communicate with one another through chemical messengers called neurotransmitters. The neurotransmitters cross a tiny gap, or synapse, between neurons and attach to receptors on the receiving neuron. Some neurotransmitters are inhibitory—they make it less likely that the receiving neuron will carry out some action.

Effects of Substance Use on Brain Circuits and Functions

You should always speak with your doctor before you start, stop, or change any prescribed part of your care plan or treatment. WebMD understands that reading individual, real-life experiences can be a helpful resource, but it is never a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from a qualified health care provider. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or dial 911 immediately. People in this stage usually experience their addictive behavior as a positive or pleasant experience. However, negative consequences do eventually affect people engaging in addictive behaviors. These negative consequences can push the individual into the “contemplation” stage.

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