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Understanding alcohol & drug problems

What can begin with one too many after-work drinks regularly can quickly end up as an addiction, where alcohol or drugs are needed to get you through the day.

Addiction is a chronic brain disease that causes mental and physical harm.

Addiction and the brain

Addictive drugs such as cocaine and alcohol stimulate the brain’s reward centres. The reward centre provides incentives for action by registering the value of essential experiences.

Rewarding experiences trigger the release of the brain’s chemical dopamine, telling the brain, “That was great! Do it again.”  

Recovery is difficult due to the drug-induced changes that create lasting memories in the brain, linking the drug to a pleasurable reward. Self-control and decision-making processes are thus affected.

Behavioural addictions

Addiction to alcohol and drugs has traditionally defined the term ‘addiction’. However, people can also become addicted to certain behaviours such as gambling, eating and shopping. These behaviours also cause a dopamine release in the brain as a ‘reward’, and again telling the brain “, That was great! Do it again.” 

However, the damage done to the brain by drugs and alcohol puts chemical addictions in a different category from behavioural addictions. 


Addiction is characterised by denial. No matter how much you try to rationalise with an addicted person, they will fail to see they have a problem, and so many people do not seek help until the addiction is severe and causing serious problems in their lives.

Last Updated on June 15, 2022 by