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The Hijacker: Understanding Addiction and the Brain

Updated: Apr 20, 2023

In the explainer video, “The Hijacker,” learn about how substance use disorders (SUDs) affect tissue function in two main parts of the brain: the limbic system (responsible for basic survival instincts) and the prefrontal cortex (where decision-making and impulse control live).

Substance use activates the dopamine process in the survival center much more powerfully than natural rewards like food or sex. When repeated it can hijack the brain, making it think that the substance is the most important thing for survival. Over time, more and more of the substance is needed to activate the same level of reward, causing the brain’s circuits to become increasingly imbalanced--eroding a person’s self-control and ability to make sound decisions, while producing intense impulses to seek and use the substance.

This is what it means when scientists say that addiction is a brain disease.

The good news – SUDs are preventable and treatable, and brain scans show that once an individual is in recovery, brain tissue can get better.

Animated by Patrick Smith

Thanks to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) for the science highlighted.

All rights reserved. @2018 The Addiction Policy Forum.


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