APEX Brain Centers

Understanding Addiction: Brain’s Role in Recovery Explained

Addiction is a complex issue that affects tens of millions of individuals worldwide. By seeking to understand the underlying mechanisms and the role that the brain plays in addiction and recovery, we can work towards helping those affected by addiction regain control over their lives. At APEX Brain Centers, we believe that a strong foundation in neuroscience is essential for addressing addiction and other related behavioral disorders.

The science of addiction has shown that addiction is a chronic brain disease with the potential for recurrence and recovery. It involves a three-stage cycle: binge/intoxication, withdrawal/negative affect, and preoccupation/anticipation. Understanding this cycle and the plasticity of the human brain contributes to both the development of and recovery from substance use disorders.

In our practice at APEX Brain Centers, we focus on providing comprehensive care to address the needs of individuals with learning and behavioral disorders, brain injuries, and cognitive impairments that many struggling with addiction suffer from. Our approach includes an emphasis on functional neurology, low-level laser therapy, hyperbaric oxygen therapy, and neurofeedback. We also utilize balance and vestibular therapies, eye movement rehabilitation, frequency-based modalities, metabolic and nutritional therapies, and home care programs to support recovery and promote optimum mental health.

Understanding the Brain’s Role in Developing Addiction

Addiction is a complex neurological issue that involves changes in the brain’s structure and function. Addictive behaviors are driven by the brain’s intricate reward and pleasure circuitry. Substances like drugs or behaviors like gambling trigger the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward reinforcement, flooding the brain with intense feelings of euphoria. 

Over time, repeated exposure to these stimuli leads to changes in the brain’s structure and function, altering the way it processes rewards and making it increasingly difficult for individuals to control their impulses. This neuroadaptation fuels the relentless cycle of craving and compulsive substance use or behavior, ultimately hijacking the brain’s decision-making processes. 

Understanding the brain’s role in addiction is critical for developing effective treatments and interventions to help those struggling with this challenging condition regain control over their lives.

Dopamine, the Reward Circuit, and Addiction

One key aspect of addiction is the role of dopamine, a neurotransmitter responsible for regulating the brain’s reward circuit.

Dopamine plays a significant role in addiction, as addictive substances increase dopamine levels in the nucleus accumbens, a part of the brain’s reward circuit. This increase in dopamine leads to pleasurable feelings, which can ultimately lead to the development of substance use disorders, as individuals chase the euphoric feelings associated with increased dopamine levels. 

As the addiction progresses, the brain undergoes changes in three primary regions:

  1. Prefrontal Cortex: Responsible for decision-making, impulse control, and managing rewards
  2. Basal Ganglia: Controls habits and routines, as well as the neurotransmitter dopamine
  3. Extended Amygdala: Manages stress, anxiety, and emotional responses

These changes in the brain result in an increased craving for the addictive substance, a loss of control over its use, and continued involvement with the substance despite adverse consequences.

The prefrontal cortex, often referred to as the brain’s executive center, plays a crucial role in decision-making, impulse control, and managing rewards. However, in the context of addiction, this region becomes impaired. The addicted person’s ability to make rational, long-term decisions and control impulsive urges weakens, making it increasingly difficult to resist the allure of the addictive substance or behavior. This impairment in the prefrontal cortex is a significant factor behind the continued engagement in addictive behaviors, and we can visualize this type of dysfunction in many cases with technology such as qEEG.

The basal ganglia, in addition to controlling movement, is responsible for controlling habits and routines. It is tightly connected to the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is associated with pleasure and reward reinforcement. As addiction progresses, the basal ganglia becomes increasingly ingrained in the habit of seeking and using the addictive substance or engaging in the addictive behavior. The repetitive, ritualistic nature of addiction forms strong associations in the basal ganglia and its production of dopamine, reinforcing the addictive cycle and making it difficult for the individual to break free.

The extended amygdala, a part of the brain associated with stress, anxiety, and emotional responses, undergoes profound changes in addiction. It becomes hyperactive, leading to heightened stress and anxiety levels when the addictive substance is not consumed or the addictive behavior is not engaged in. This emotional turmoil drives the individual back to the addictive source as a coping mechanism, perpetuating the cycle of addiction.

These neurobiological changes result in a range of behavioral symptoms that define addiction. There is an increasing craving for the addictive substance or behavior, a loss of control over its use, and continued involvement despite adverse consequences. This often leads to a vicious cycle, where the individual’s life becomes increasingly centered around obtaining and using the substance or engaging in the behavior, with a detrimental impact on their physical and mental health, relationships, and overall quality of life. 

At APEX Brain Centers, we believe that understanding these neurological underpinnings is vital in developing effective treatments and interventions to help individuals break free from the grasp of addiction and regain control over their lives.

Substance Use and the Impact on the Brain

Substance use, including drugs and alcohol, affects the brain in various ways. At APEX Brain Centers, we have seen how the use of substances like heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, amphetamine, and marijuana can lead to addiction and impact brain function.

When individuals use addictive substances, they experience changes in their brain chemistry. With repeated use, the brain becomes chemically and electrically/neurologically imbalanced, contributing to the development of addiction.

The symptoms and consequences that addiction has on the brain are profound. When individuals become more tolerant to the substance, they need higher doses to achieve the same pleasurable effects. This tolerance further strains the brain’s neurotransmitter systems. This causes cravings for the substance to become intense and persistent, often overshadowing other priorities and activities. The brain is rewired to prioritize drug-seeking behavior above all else.

Moreover, as addiction progresses, the individual’s capacity for sound judgment and decision-making, which is primarily governed by the prefrontal cortex, is severely impaired. This can lead to a multitude of adverse consequences, from risky behaviors to compromised interpersonal relationships and compromised job performance; as well as brain damage.

The changes in the brain can also lead to heightened emotional responses, increased anxiety, and even symptoms of depression when not using the substance, particularly due to alterations in the extended amygdala.

In order to address the changes that occur in the brain as a result of addiction, we take a pioneering approach to addiction treatment, understanding that it’s far more than a matter of willpower – it’s a complex interplay of genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors, all rooted in the neurological aspects of addiction. 

Over our two decades of experience, we have developed an innovative approach that combines functional neurology assessments and interventions to address the neurological changes addiction causes in the brain.

As experts in the field of brain health, we have seen the transformative effects of the combination of functional neurology with mental health therapies, which together target the root causes of addiction. By addressing the underlying brain changes caused by substance use, we aim to help individuals achieve lasting recovery and improve their overall quality of life.

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Risk Factors and Prevention

Understanding addiction involves considering various factors that contribute to its development and persistence. Various influences shape an individual’s vulnerability to substance misuse. Environmental factors, like high-stress settings, substance accessibility, and societal pressure, as well as a genetic predisposition to addiction, can heighten addiction risk. Prevention efforts should focus on addressing these factors.

At APEX Brain Centers, we believe in approaching addiction prevention and treatment from a holistic perspective, which means fostering healthy coping mechanisms and support networks, as well as providing personalized care based on each individual’s genetic profile. 

Additionally, societal education and attitude shifts are key in reducing addiction stigma and boosting prevention and intervention awareness. Early intervention improves recovery chances, addressing emerging addictive behaviors proactively. Implementing prevention measures at a societal level contributes to reducing the overall prevalence of addiction. By fostering collaboration between healthcare providers, educators, policymakers, and community organizations, we can create a supportive environment that empowers individuals to make informed choices and access the resources they need to achieve and maintain recovery.

Treatment Approaches and Addiction Recovery

At APEX Brain Centers, we understand that addiction is a complex issue, and recovery requires a comprehensive approach. One of the most critical factors in successful recovery is addressing the role of the brain. We utilize a combination of evidence-based treatment approaches to help individuals regain control over their lives and achieve lasting abstinence.

Typical interventions many seek prior to entering into our program may include the use of medications to ease discomfort, reduce cravings, or address the symptoms of co-occurring disorders. These interventions are geared towards helping the individual safely detox and stabilize, providing a foundation for further recovery work. Then, many will enroll in some level of in-patient or intensive outpatient mental health therapy.

At APEX we prioritize functional neurology, which allows us to identify and address underlying neurological issues contributing to addiction; such as pre-existing learning and behavioral disorders and traumatic brain injury. Our team utilizes leading-edge modalities, such as low-level laser therapy, hyperbaric oxygen therapy, and neurofeedback to help restore optimal brain function. We also incorporate balance and vestibular therapies, eye movement rehabilitation, frequency-based therapies, and metabolic and nutritional therapies. These approaches, all driven by extensive diagnostic testing, are designed to support the individual’s overall brain and body health and maximize the effectiveness of other recovery strategies.

Behavioral therapies are another integral complement to our recovery programs. Through individual and group sessions, clients learn new coping skills, develop healthier habits, and address any underlying emotional or psychological issues that may contribute to their addiction. This happens more effectively when we can address the underlying neurological issues contributing to their unwanted behaviors. We understand that each person’s recovery journey is unique, and we work closely with our clients to develop personalized treatment plans that address their specific needs and challenges.

Finally, we recognize the importance of long-term support in achieving lasting recovery. As part of our commitment to comprehensive care, we offer home care programs designed to reinforce the progress made in treatment and provide ongoing guidance as individuals navigate their new, substance-free lives. This consistent support helps to minimize the risk of relapse and promote long-term success in recovery.

Through this multifaceted approach, we at APEX Brain Centers are dedicated to helping individuals overcome addiction and achieve improved mental health and well-being.

Dr. Michael S. Trayford is a Board Certified Chiropractic Neurologist and Neurofeedback Specialist with over 20 years of experience in the practice of advanced functional neurology. He is one of the most highly sought-after brain rehabilitation specialists because of the life-changing outcomes his patients consistently experience. After over a decade in private practice and working alongside other pioneers in the field, Dr. Trayford developed his multimodal intensive brain training and rehabilitation program built around the science of Neuroplasticity – the ability of the brain to learn and grow dependent upon the stimulation it receives from its environment. He later founded APEX Brain Centers to combine his ground-breaking rehabilitation approach with a unique patient and caretaker-centered care model. Under Dr. Trayford’s leadership, APEX Brain Centers has successfully treated thousands of patients and earned the reputation of a world-renowned brain training and rehabilitation practice. Since its inception, Dr. Trayford has been a leader of the Brain Training revolution treating patients worldwide. In addition, he is a published journal contributor and international lecturer. His experience with various patients of all ages and neurological conditions has given him a unique perspective on brain health and human performance. He is also well-versed in collaborating with other health care professionals, making him an invaluable asset to any care team. Dr. Trayford was awarded the Functional Neurologist of the Year distinction by the International Association of Functional Neurology and Rehabilitation, where he is a proud member and conference lecturer. Currently, he serves on the Advisory Council for the Dementia Society of America and the Board of Directors for the International Society for Neuroregulation and Research. He is also a servant leader who has dedicated his adult life to serving multiple communities through Rotary International and other notable causes. When he’s not treating patients, Dr. Trayford usually reads or researches anything related to the brain, human performance, and leadership. He also loves spending time outdoors with his wife Denise, their two daughters, and dogs in the beautiful mountains of western North Carolina. https://www.linkedin.com/in/drmichaeltrayford/


  1. shawn on December 18, 2023 at 1:52 am

    Hello, I’ve recently had both mri and ct scan , nothing was found. For last few weeks rolling into full month having headaches,brain feels cold at times, burning sensation, located front and back of head, dizziness, difficulty walking, even when so legs full heavy, face tingling sensation, a few tremors, froggy brain, sometimes thought clutter, and times both arms feels little numbness, swallow little hard, and touching side of head as well back of head feels tenders(hurts), that doesn’t even includes the hot air feeling , waking up nauseous etc

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