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Permanent Damage from Addiction: Does Addiction Have Permanent Effects?

After getting sober, you may be curious to wonder if there is any permanent damage from addiction. Addiction impacts every aspect of your life, causing disruptions on a molecular, cellular, physical, behavioral and spiritual level. Addiction treatment should address all aspects of your life that has been impacted by your alcohol or substance use disorder, in order to offer a full recovery.

Guests find that the effects of addiction are not easy to verbalize, because addiction affects and changes their brain chemistry: altering thoughts, feelings, actions and reactions. According to Facing Addiction, one in three American households have a family member in active addiction, in recovery or lost to an overdose. But a survey by the organization also showed that nearly half of respondents weren’t convinced it’s an illness — despite a 2016 surgeon general’s report defining addiction as a “chronic neurological disorder” (Hilger).

How Our Brain Reacts to Drugs or Alcohol

“Each time we do something that’s pleasurable, the brain takes copious notes and teaches us to do it again and again—keep eating, keep having sex. When this system is overstimulated—some drugs release up to 10 times the amount of dopamine that rewards us for normal activities—we feel an incredible sense of euphoria and wellbeing, and the brain again takes notes and teaches us to crave that behavior again and again” (Safety Net Recovery).

Addiction’s Short Term Effects

The most notable short term effect of addiction is the way your behavior is altered. Addicts and alcoholics seem to find trouble in interpersonal relationships, drug-seeking behaviors, emotional range, processing, and more. Each drug also has its own list of shorter term negative affects from use or chronic use.

Your physical body is impacted by addiction, especially if you are struggling from drug or alcohol dependence. A physical dependence will result in withdrawal symptoms, because underlying your dependence is a chemical change in your brain that involves the body’s adaption to functioning with the substance of abuse. This means that your body’s functioning has been altered to expect the substance’s presence in your body— and the body no longer knows how to function without the substance. Addiction causes a chemical imbalance in the brain, which influences addict and alcoholic’s behavior. Drugs are called “mind-altering” substances for a reason.

How Addiction Impacts Parts of the Brain

Drugs and alcohol affect many areas of the brain, including: the limbic system, the brain stem, cerebral cortex, and more. Here is how drugs affect each of these areas:

    • The Limbic System

The limbic system is by far one of the most affected areas of the brain when it comes to measuring the impact of addiction. The limbic system is home to the brain’s reward system, which controls our ability to perceive emotions, feel pleasure, and prompts us to do things like socialize, exercise, eat, etc.

    • The Brain Stem

The brain stem controls our basic functioning, it sends messages from our brain to our body. The brain stem controls body functioning, including crucial processes like breathing, swallowing, heart rate, blood pressure, consciousness, and our circadian rhythm.

    • Cerebral Cortex

Our cerebral cortex controls our information processing, including how we make decisions, solve problems, and experience our senses (touch, taste, smell, hear, and see). The cerebral cortex is often regarded as the “thinking” center of our brain.

Behavior from Addiction

The change in your behavior is perhaps one of the longest lasting effects of addiction. You may feel permanent damage from addiction manifest itself into your behavior way before you notice any physical or health problems. In addition to the short term effects of chronic substance abuse mentioned above, “…the specific changes identified so far are not sufficiently long lasting to account for the nearly permanent changes in behaviour associated with addiction…” (Nestler). Changes in behavior can manifest in different ways for different people, most commonly, addicts and alcoholics will be conditioned to recognizing drug-associated cues as triggers. This plays a large role in relapse, as these drug-associated “triggers” are considered to be a form of addict’s memory.

Your main coping skill became using drugs or alcohol to escape a thought, feeling, or situation. Once you made drugs or alcohol your main coping skill, your behavior will then center around solving problems by using drugs— influencing how you think, feel, react and respond to any perceived problem. Your behavior became drug-seeking behavior because your brain was reliant on a substance to function in all aspects of the word.

Once drugs (your former solution) are taken away, you aren’t sure how to behave— therefore you transform drug-seeking behavior into plain self-seeking behavior, because you are seeking actions that give you instant gratification like drugs or alcohol did. This behavior could be permanent damage from addiction if left untreated. This process leads addicts or alcoholics in recovery to indulge in behavioral addictions, like overeating, having sex, gambling, etc. These conditions are a direct result of developing behaviors that aimed around giving you instant gratification and a flooding of dopamine (the feel-good chemical in your brain) to stimulate the rewards center in your brain. Without proper comprehensive addiction treatment, these behavioral changes may persist with no end. Because behavior is greatly impacted from addiction, we offer the two most effective behavioral therapies at Royal Life Centers at Puget Sound. The behavioral therapies we offer include: cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT).

Permanent Effects?

Permanent damage from addiction is possible. Chronic drug use, substance or alcohol use disorders can cause permanent damage to your brain and body. Though most effects will be naturally restored over a period of time, some effects can be lifelong. Permanent damage from addiction, like damages to your brain can include: memory loss, damage to transmitters in the brain, cell death, and brain inflammation. Studies show that some drugs have neurological consequences similar to a traumatic brain injury.

Permanent damage from addiction could also be caused from your behavior in active addiction. Other permanent effects of chronic drug use can stem from the negative short term effects of addiction. For example, chronic cocaine abuse can result in seizures, which could have permanent effects on the body. Alcohol has its own set of permanent symptoms that can arise as a result of alcoholism, like Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, Korsakoff’s psychosis, irreversible liver damage, etc. The slowed breath and decreased oxygen to the brain associated with chronic opioid use, called respiratory depression, can limit oxygen flow over time and cause permanent brain damage. Illicit drugs like heroin can cause the brain’s white matter to degenerate, which is extremely difficult for the body to repair. If you are worried about having permanent damage from addiction, please reach out to our addiction specialists for help.

Reach Out

If you or someone you know is struggling with an addiction, please reach out to our addiction specialists at (877)-RECOVERY or (888) 308-1985. Our team of addiction specialists make themselves available to take your call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Because We Care.


Hilgers, Laura. “Let’s Open Up About Addiction and Recovery.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 4 Nov. 2017,

Nestler, Eric J. “Molecular Basis of Long-Term Plasticity Underlying Addiction.” Nature News, Nature Publishing Group, 1 Feb. 2001,

Safety Net Recovery. Long-Term Consequences of Drug Use on the Brain. Safety Net Recovery, 12 Jan. 2016,

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