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How the Complex Nature of the Brain Affects Addiction

Table of Contents

The brain is a unique organ for many reasons. It controls all of the important functions of our body and mind including the function of many organs, physical movement of our arms and legs, how we think, speak and remember things. Its complexity continues to mystify and confound scientists and physicians. However, what we do know is that the health of the brain affects the proper functioning of the human body and damage to the brain can be quite devastating.

Researchers continue to learn more to find better ways to treat Alzheimer’s disease, brain injury and epilepsy among other ailments. Research is also being conducted about the true effect of drugs and alcohol on the brain during and after the drugs are used.

A study published in “Frontiers in Neuroscience” states that when humans learn to walk on two legs, they begin a process in which they automate previously learned actions in order to learn more. In essence, this frees the cortex of the brain from routine tasks, and pushes those tasks to the basal ganglia and cerebellum.

Human brains have developed throughout their evolution, and have tripled in size. Currently, humans have the largest brain of any primate.

Close-Up of the Human Brain

The brain’s complexity means that while it is one organ, its parts work together to accomplish a variety of tasks. However, each portion of the brain has specific properties and functions.

The cerebrum is divided into two hemispheres. It’s connected by nerve fibers that assist in communications between the two hemispheres. While the hemispheres seem to be mirror images of each other, they are not. Abstract reasoning seems to be mostly found in the right side, while speaking and logic come from the left side.

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No one yet understands why messages from one side of the brain cross over to the other side before being sent to the rest of the body. The right hemisphere controls the left side of the body, and vice versa. If you damage the left side of your brain, it will affect the function of the right side of your body.

Sections of the Brain

Within each hemisphere, sections are called lobes. Each lobe has its own function.

Frontal Lobes

The frontal lobes, behind the forehead, function to help you plan, imagine, strategize and store short-term memories. They also help you control voluntary movement and on the left side, form words.

Parietal Lobes

Parietal lobes, behind the frontal lobes, process taste, smell, touch and temperature. They are also involved in reading and mathematics.

Occipital Lobes

Vision is controlled by the occipital lobes which send images from your eyes and connect them to your memory. Blindness can be caused by damage to the occipital lobes.

Temporal Lobes

It is easy to see why the temporal lobes (located in front of the occipital lobes and under the parietal and frontal lobes) interpret and process audio signals from the ears. They also process memory related to the senses.

Within the brain, hidden by the cerebrum are other important sections of the brain:

  • The hypothalamus controls adrenaline and emotions
  • The thalamus processes information between the spinal cord and cerebrum
  • The hippocampus indexes memories for long-term storage and retrieval
  • The basal ganglia are responsible for beginning and integrating movements
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Addiction and the Brain

Addiction drastically alters the way that the brain and body function. Since the brain’s functions are so complex, with each section controlling an area of the mind and body, any alteration to the functions resulting from drug or alcohol usage can easily upset it. Hence, symptoms of dizziness and nausea occur when small doses of drugs are ingested.

With addiction, the user continually increases the amount of the drug they ingest, overwhelming the brain’s normal functions. Eventually, the brain can become so damaged, that it ceases to function.

If you or your loved one is struggling with an addiction, don’t wait to get help. You may be causing irreversible damage to your brain and body. Contact Destination Hope today to learn about addiction treatment and how it can help you get your life back on track.


  1. J.M. Shine and R. Shine, Delegation to automaticity: the driving force for cognitive evolution?, Frontiers in Neuroscience, April 29, 2014,
  2. Bigger Brains: Complex Brains for a Complex World, Smithsonian Institution,


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