brain presumably goes back to normal.
But with each use after, the drug’seffect will be a little less because yourbrain circuits have adjusted to it. “Youhabituate,” says Koob.
That habituation is a strong formof tolerance. It is also a form ofdegenerative plasticity, because braincells and neural pathways can die off.
Recovery from addiction (be itfrom a substance or a behaviour suchas gambling, shopping, food or sex)depends on regenerative brain plasticity.
This process is not simply a matter ofgrowing new brain cells: when a braincell is dead, it’s gone forever. But thebrain can be dazzling in its ability torewire and compensate.
“What you do is recruit other systemsto give you a boost,” Koob says.
While the brain can be rewiredfollowing addiction—or other injuries andexperiences—the process can take yearsand involve intensive and costly therapy.
“What we’ve learned in neurosciencein the past 40 or 50 years is that thebrain has that capability to be plastic,the capability to be changing,” Koobsays. “It’s really a profound statementbecause it means addiction is a braindisorder and recovery is a brainrecovery.”|a
Your brain is plastic. Not the plasticyour computer keyboard is made of orthe plastic used for knives and forks attakeout stands.
Plastic as in the Greek word plastikos,meaning to mould or to form. Brainplasticity means your brain has theability to change. Brain plasticity islinked to a number of brain functions:memory, addiction and recovery offunction, such as after a stroke or injury.
When we learn to do somethinginvolving our motor skills—for example,play a piano or drive a car—our brainplasticity changes the structure of cellsin our nervous system. If for somereason the changes can’t take place, themotor learning can’t take place either.
For the most part, our brains are themost plastic in the early years, the firstsix years of life. This is when the greatestpart of brain architecture is beingbuilt. Billions of brain circuits (neuralpathways) are forming and behavioursare starting to emerge. Both are shapedby a combination of environment andgenetics.
During this time of intensedevelopment, the brain is fragile. Itcan be easily harmed, but can alsoheal easily. Here again, how our brainresponds is the result of a combination
Your brain is plastic
And it has the ability to change
WRITTEN BY TERRY BULLICK
of environment and genetics, alsoknown as epigenetics.
While our brains are most plastic inchildhood, they have some plasticitythroughout life. This ability for the brainto change is crucial to being able toadapt and change as we age.
In a paper published in 2003 by theAmerican Psychological Society (nowcalled the Association for PsychologicalScience), Bryan Kolb and Robbin Gibbof the Canadian Centre for BehaviouralNeuroscience at the University ofLethbridge, along with Terry E.Robinson of the University of Michigan,wrote: “Recent research has shownthat brain plasticity and behaviour canbe influenced by a myriad of factors,including pre- and postnatal experience,drugs, hormones, maturation, aging,diet, disease and stress.
“Understanding how these factors
influence brain organization and
function is important not only for
understanding both normal and
abnormal behaviour, but also for
designing treatments for behavioural
and psychological disorders ranging
from addiction and stroke.”
George Koob, director of the U.S.
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and
Alcoholism at the National Institutes of
Health, has spent his career looking at
how drugs affect brain plasticity.
“Drugs change the brain, whetherit’s with one glass of wine at dinner orsmoking a pipe of crack cocaine, and thechange begins with the first use of thedrug,” says Koob.
As the effects of the drug wear off, the
The ability for the brain to
change is crucial to being
able to adapt and change
as we age
It means addiction is
a brain disorder and
recovery is a brain