SOURCE: Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center

Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center

February 26, 2014 14:25 ET

Understanding How the Brain Functions in Addicted Individuals Is Key to Recovery

CHICAGO, IL--(Marketwired - February 26, 2014) - The death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman shocked the entire country. A sad and senseless death, but what is more tragic is that his death is not so unique. Every year, thousands of men and women die of a drug overdose. The difference is that these people are not famous.

"So many individuals in our country struggle with an addiction that they can't overcome on their own," said Kim Dennis, MD, CEO and medical director of Timberline Knolls, a residential treatment center for women and adolescent girls struggling with addiction, eating disorders, trauma and other co-occurring disorders. "We need to start understanding what happens to the brain when a person is addicted and how the brain's ability to function correctly is altered."

Brain alteration takes place in a few important places including the reward center, which is very active when the person's drug of choice is ingested. This activity is associated with the release of dopamine in the reward area which produces a feeling of well-being, euphoria, and decreased negative emotions. Changes also take place in the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for impulse control, decision making and exercising judgment.

When the reward center goes haywire after a person uses a the drug they are addicted to, the prefrontal cortex essentially goes "offline", and the individual is unable to use this area of the brain to make good long-term decisions.

Brain imaging studies from drug-addicted individuals show actual physical changes and decreased activity in the prefrontal areas.

"Once these changes occur in the brain of an addicted person, their ability to exert free will is limited," adds Dr. Dennis. "This is one of the physical aspects of the disease that a person with addiction is powerless over. Thankfully, there are other powerful parts to us as human beings than the brain alone."

The most important when it comes to recovering from addiction is the spirit. Although people with substance use disorders can't change the way their brains respond to drugs or alcohol, they do have choice in one area: how much help are they willing to get to understand what needs to happen and what they need to do on a daily basis to stay in remission.

The power of 12 step support groups and good addiction professionals are key to long lasting recovery because they act as an external prefrontal decision making support for people whose brains need time to heal. The frontal lobes will heal over time, but the reward center changes are more permanent.

"A doctor who prescribes narcotic pain medication to a heroin addict, even one that's been sober for many years, needs to understand the risks and necessary precautions that must be put into place for that person to safely use the medication," adds Dr. Dennis. "A doctor that doesn't do this is negligent. People who have many years of sobriety and freedom from active addiction need to understand this vulnerability as well. We all benefit from an extra set or two (or twenty) of high functioning prefrontal cortices looking over our decisions."

Dr. Dennis believes once an addiction takes a hold, choice is limited to how much help and for how long that person is willing to be connected to this help. Until this truth is understood, friends, families and doctors will keep asking the same question "Why?" followed by the same sad comment: "Tragic."

About Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center:

Timberline Knolls is a leading private residential treatment center for women and adolescent girls (ages 12 - 65+) with eating disorders, substance abuse, trauma, mood and co-occurring disorders. Located in suburban Chicago, residents receive excellent clinical care from a highly trained professional staff on a picturesque 43-acre wooded campus. Women and families seeking Christian treatment can opt for specialized Christian-based therapy. For more information on Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center, call us at 877.257.9611. We are also on Facebook - Timberline Knolls, and LinkedIn - Timberline Knolls.

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