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Addiction Treatment: The Basics of the Brain and Oxygen Therapy

Drug and alcohol abuse interferes with the chemistry of the brain, and detoxifying requires improved blood flow possible through oxygen therapy. Whether the substance is a depressant like alcohol or opium, a stimulant like cocaine or methamphetamine, or a hallucinogen like LSD or marijuana, all drugs somehow affect the chemistry of the brain. The neurological circuits of the brain affected by the drug become damaged and sometimes unable to function without the addicted substance. In order to let the affected areas heal and function as intended, oxygen therapy involves breathing higher concentrations of oxygen than can exist at sea level. This enables the bloodstream to penetrate neglected areas of the brain much more efficiently to provide the proper elements and nutrients for the body to repair itself.

The Purpose of Oxygen In the Human Body

Oxygen is a tricky element. If you have ever seen rust on a piece of iron, that was caused by oxidation, a change in the structure of the electrons in the metal. What we see as degradation, however, is a necessary function of life All cells in the human body use oxygen to break down sugars to create the energy necessary for regular function and replication. This is called cellular respiration; without oxygen, our cells die in as little as five minutes. Cellular respiration works in the same way that wood burns: in high temperatures, oxygen fuels the fire, undergoes a chemical reaction with the log, and releases carbon dioxide. The “heat” in the cell is energy, the “fuels” are oxygen and glucose, and the “waste” is carbon dioxide, which is removed every time we exhale. Oxygen therapy provides greater concentrations of oxygen to fill the lungs and enter the bloodstream. With increased oxygen, the cells of the brain can better create the fuel necessary to function normally.

Regular Functions of the Brain Versus Addiction

In essence, the brain is an incredibly complex organic computer. Instead of wires and silicon chips, however, the brain is composed of cells called neurons. “Information” is processed from neuron to neuron through tiny electrical impulses. Each impulse changes the way receiving neurons interact with one another, as cells called neurotransmitters “unlock” each neuron to transmit or receive transmissions. Neurons can create or dissolve connections to other neurons, making it possible for the brain to form new ideas, behaviors, skills, and even unconscious. You may recognize a few of these neurotransmitters. Dopamine regulates body movement, can remove associated fears, and “reward” the brain for causing pleasurable actions. Histamine controls the body’s immune response, causing inflammation to allergic reactions or injury. Acetylcholine also regulates movement and is a major component of working memory, or the brain’s ability to retain short-term memory. The trouble comes when drugs and other substances enter the bloodstream and begin the influence the formation and function of neurons and their transmitters. Each drug is unique, but when addicted for long enough, the structure and wiring of the brain can be damaged as the drugs mimic regular nervous system function.

Mimicking Signals

Take opiates like morphine and hydrocodone, for example. The reason these drugs “eliminate” the sensation of pain is by adhering to specific neurotransmitters that regulate pain. Obviously, opiates don’t heal the body. Instead, they mimic the transmissions that convince the brain that nothing is wrong. Other drugs like nicotine and amphetimines mimic the reception of dopamine. This causes the feeling of being “high”, and the more the drugs are used, the more the body desires it and the harder it is to achieve the same high.

Overloading Transmitters

When you want to work harder and play harder than anyone else in your industry, there’s a drug for that. Silicon Valley and the technology sector have had a problem with cocaine and heroin for decades because of the drug’s ability to limit the brain’s desire for sleep and relaxation. Burnout for high-risk entrepreneurs is viewed as non-negotiable. Employees are often fired for not keeping up with 80-hour weeks, and many have died because of overdose. When the brain becomes overloaded and denied rest, burnout isn’t just psychological. It becomes very physical.

Repairing the Brain at the Cellular Level

So how do you repair the brain after long-term drug abuse? Popular belief is that after childhood and adolescence, the brain ceases to develop and no additional cells can be created. On the contrary, the University of Chicago discovered that even elderly people with Alzheimer’s continue creating and reprogramming neurons (a process called neurogenesis). The following are major areas of the brain that can greatly benefit from oxygen therapy in conjuction with other therapy treatments.

The Frontal Lobe: Conscious Thought and Memory

Memory is a surprisingly large component of drug addiction and addictive behavior. For many addicts, peer pressure, trauma, or physical pain led them to drugs to escape from the thoughts and feelings of the past. Recent research has proposed that even different smells, images, and physical locations can trigger the brain into desiring drugs. In 2015, Medical News Today shared a fascinating study performed on rats that had been addicted to cocaine and alcohol. When placed inside a specifically-colored room, they were “rewarded” with either drug. From then on, the rats developed the habit of wandering into those specific rooms to feed their addictions. However, when divided into two groups, the test group received a medication that affected the memory and reward centers of the brain. The medication essentially made them “forget”, or disassociate, their connection between the room and the addiction. While such medication is not prescribed as a treatment for substance abuse, it does make you think about what memories might trigger a relapse and how you might separate your addiction from them. Interestingly, the medication — Isradipine — is used to treat high blood pressure, lending further evidence that proper blood and oxygen flow can reduce the brain’s need for addictive drugs.

The Basal Ganglia: The Body’s “Reward Center”

As the site of dopamine production, this area of the brain is affected by a majority of substances both legal and illegal. When substances are abused for long periods of time, dopamine receptors in the basal ganglia lose their ability to produce dopamine for any other reason besides the consumption of the drug. “Reprogramming” and healing this central structure of the brain can be very difficult, as the depression and pain typical of withdrawal make the drug all the more desirable.

The Amygdala: Seeking Comfort From Pain

The amygdala controls the body’s reaction to anger, fear, anxiety, and nervousness. When the high from certain drugs fade, the amygdala responds and causes the addict to desire more of the substance out of discomfort. Long-time addicts may no longer feel any positive effects from substance abuse, using them instead as a means to avoid the pain caused by the affected amygdala. Oxygen therapy can allow this area of the brain to heal and resume regular function, making it possible to limit the pain and fear often associated with withdrawal symptoms and the loss of drug access.

Experience Oxygen Therapy at Ardù Recovery Center in Provo, Utah

Oxygen therapy is a proven method of helping the brain heal and restore regular function, even after long periods of drug and alcohol addiction. Make this form of therapy part of your overall recovery plan, and you will find the will to overcome the pain of substance abuse. Start your journey towards a better future at the Ardù Recovery Center in Provo, Utah. We serve clients throughout all of Utah, as well as nearby communities like Orem, Spanish Fork, Lehi, and Salt Lake City.  Call us today for more information!