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San Diego Sober Living - Recovery

Understanding Addiction as a Neurochemical Challenge

When evaluating the various therapeutic strategies for the treatment of substance abuse disorders, there’s a strong need to shift the outdated narratives of addiction as a choice or character flaw. These incorrect perceptions only succeed in creating harmful stereotypes that ignore human nature, particularly in the context of neurochemistry.

Early Neurochemical Processes of Addiction

Learned experiences, cultural factors, and behavioral patterns aren’t the sole foundations of addiction. Dopamine, the main neurotransmitter in the brain’s reward system, plays a crucial role in reinforcing pleasurable experiences and motivating repetition. 


It’s very common for dopamine levels to surge when taking psychoactive substances for recreational or therapeutic use. The enjoyment dopamine mechanisms cause is often augmented by social cues, such as drinking or getting high each day after work. Over time, these neurochemical cues can trigger dopamine anticipation, leading to cravings and a desire to recreate the pleasurable experience.

The Desire for Amplifying Enjoyment

The presence of dopamine in human neurochemistry is intrinsic, but its levels and the efficiency of neural connections aren’t the same for everyone. When we talk about universal personality traits, we can agree feeling good is at the top of the list, but not all of us will pursue it in the same way. Some people can enjoy weekends and holidays without drinking, while others will insist on getting drunk the entire time for maximum enjoyment. In the context of neuroscience, this makes perfect sense because brain chemistry and circuitry are more diverse than fingerprints.

Neurochemical Diversity & Addiction

In the past, we treated lack of impulse control as a moral failure. However, medical research strongly suggests this could also be a matter of humans simply “being wired differently.” The reality of this colloquial expression can be found in neurochemistry. A single factor, such as being deficient in a single protein, can impact dopamine production, release, and reuptake activity. This explains why some people can have a couple of beers with friends at a local bar and call it a night, but others know having two beers can lead them to drink another 20 before midnight.

Brain Plasticity & Addiction Recovery

Neurochemically speaking, anyone can recover from addiction and avoid relapse, but not everyone will go through the same journey. We know addiction is tied to brain chemistry. This is where brain plasticity, the ability to adapt and change, comes into play. 


Addiction alters neural pathways, but such effects can be reversed through targeted therapies and interventions that stimulate brain plasticity. Let’s say an alcoholic in treatment enters an Encinitas sober living home. When this is part of a therapeutic strategy for behavior modification through coaching and counseling, there will be an underlying neurochemical effect. This is important to understand from a healing point of view because all patients in recovery gradually adjust their brain chemistry even if they don’t realize it.

Addiction impacts every aspect of physical and mental health, and it’s a serious problem that requires professional treatment. If you or someone you love is addicted to drugs or alcohol, seek help from a medical professional or another person you trust to help you explore options for treatment and continuing support, such as recovery coaching. Encinitas men who need help with forming new sober lifestyle habits can reach out to the dedicated team at Casa Pacifica Sober Living for the guidance they need. Give us a call today.

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