December 28, 2016 Felicia Durling

Brain Damage and Addiction

Brain Damage and AddictionHow does our brain perceive? And how does that perception inform our decision making later on? We experience this phenomena on a daily basis when we use our internal notepad to leave ourselves a reminder. We might hear someone talk about an interesting book, mention a movie, or cite a delicious sounding recipe. While we walk down the street we might see something in the window that fancies us. What we perceive in the world around us informs our decision making. Not all of these decisions are superficial. For example, when we perceive a parent or spouse is in a bad or violent mood, we decide whether or not to approach them. We may have had upsetting news, or emotions that we needed to express. Because our perception told us that there is insecurity in the environment, we make the decision not to act.

Much of perception and decision making has to do with memory and cognition. When we take note on our mental notepad to remember something later, we are already storing it in our short term memory. Acting on that information later requires executive action in cognitive functioning. Scientists recently discovered that neurons are active in multiple parts of the brain when mice performed certain memory recall tasks. One area is the frontal motor cortex.

In looking at the neuroscience of addiction, the front cortex is repeatedly mentioned, specifically the prefrontal cortex. Responsible for development, among other things, the prefrontal cortex receives some of the hardest hitting damage from drug and alcohol abuse. All kinds of developmental and cognitive functioning is damaged.

Considering the scope of perception and decision making, it’s easy to see how active addiction can cause impairment. Addicts appear to, and have been proven to, perceive the world differently due to the haze of cognitive dysfunction caused by substance abuse. As a result, they make curious choices. For example, an addict will experience the guilt, shame, anger, and resentment from their family members. Yet, later on, the addict will choose to use drugs and alcohol again, despite their family’s cues. Drug and alcohol addiction impact the whole brain, body, and spirit. It takes time and healing to regain proper brain function. Recovery can be challenging due to neurological impairments, but as many have shown, it is not impossible.

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