For those of you interested in learning more about how addiction specifically affects the brain, I encourage you to watch Dr. Kevin McCauley’s movies and YouTube presentations. Dr. McCauley was an Air Force surgeon who became addicted to pain medications after he went through a surgery himself. Rather than receiving treatment, he was sent to Leavenworth Prison.

He took advantage of his time in prison to learn everything he could about this incredible condition that was so powerful it compelled him to continue to take drugs even though he knew it was jeopardizing everything he valued.

How do Drugs Work in the Brain?

As Dr. McCauley states it best, he breaks down how the various regions of the brain are individually affected by drug use and addiction, painting a very accurate, but not pretty, picture of the condition we see in many of our patients being treated at the Coleman Institute. He expands upon this stating, "Those of us who practice addiction medicine know that we are working with patients who are not at their best. We try to protect their dignity until they find the tools to get better."

As the need for the addictive drug — be it Oxycontin®, heroin, morphine, Dilaudid®, fentanyl, or Vicodin®, just to name a few—becomes stronger and stronger, the more the brain is "highjacked."

Because most drugs specifically interfere with the way our brain communicates (via neurons which send, receive, and process signals) some drugs can actually activate these in the wrong way due to their chemical structures. What this does is allows the drugs to attach to our neurons and replicate the brain's own chemicals leading to abnormal messaging being sent back and forth. Drugs specifically like amphetamine, cocaine, or opiates, can also cause these neurons to give off an excessive amount of neurotransmitters that prevent the normal day-to-day cycling of our brain activity to occur. This in turn, heightens and disrupts the normal functioning of the brain and can do significant damage if not properly treated.

For instance, it is often saddening to watch as family members and support systems see loved ones turn into someone they do not recognize. While each individual's addiction is much different from the next; many often find themselves driven away from their loved ones as their mannerisms are taken by control of the drugs and addiction.

What Parts of the Brain are Affected by Drugs?

To provide further perspective on which areas are affected the most by drug use, we touch base on the "basal ganglia". This area of the brain plays a vital role in positive affirmations and reward systems. For instance, many activities that seem pleasurable like eating, socializing, and relaxing all stem from this area in the brain. However, when an individual is addicted to a drug this area will over-activate and adapt to the presence of the drug itself, replacing the actual reward feelings that one would typically experience with only a reward to taking the drug itself.

Aside from this key area of the brain drug use also affects both the "prefrontal cortex" and "extended amygdala"; which both play a role in the ability to think and focus and maintain stress. For those addicted to drugs, these areas are often heightened so much that one feels an unusual stressor when not on the drug and result in compulsive disorder rather than the ability to think through their addiction or gain any control.


Why Choose an Accelerated Opioid Detox?

For those loved ones that are aiding support for an individual who is addicted can experience a very tough job. It can be painful and embarrassing. They sometimes can become fed up with their child/partner/friend who they are tying to help. Instead of gratitude, they get abused.

But people who choose to work in this field understand that these are the drugs talking. This is a damaged brain and it can heal.

At The Coleman Institute we offer an Accelerated Opioid Detox using the Coleman Method. With the Coleman Method our outpatient detox program can be finished in as little as three days. By removing the opioids from your brain in the fastest most comfortable means possible, you eliminate the risk of self-detoxing and can rid your body of opioids with little disruption to your day-to-day life.


At the Coleman Institute, we know far too well how devastating and complicated both short-term and long-term effects of addiction can be for those struggling. Yet, there is light at the end of the tunnel. By overcoming your addiction and seeking professional treatment, you can be on your way to a healthier and more improved lifestyle. If you are looking for more information on how to treat addiction, treatment options or continued therapies - you can find excellent care at The Coleman Institute.

Joan R. Shepherd, FNP