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How Does Nervous System Dysregulation Link To Addiction?


The relationship between nervous system dysregulation and addiction is quite strong, such dysregulation proving to be a cause of or reason for self medication and therefore drug and alcohol addiction.

What Is Nervous System Dysregulation?

A dysregulated nervous system is when our nervous system responds to stressors in present experiences based on past stressors. Essentially, our bodies emit a threat response even though no threat is present, releasing stress chemicals in our brains and bodies.

What Is The Relationship Between Addiction And The Nervous System?

The nervous system is what triggers the fight or flight responses to perceived threats. Dysregulated nervous systems mean that your body might be stuck in a fight or flight response from a past traumatic event, also known as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

There are a few causes of nervous system dysregulation, including:

  • Psychological Traumas
  • Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)
  • Chronic Stress
  • Substance Use Disorders (SUDs)
  • Addictive Behaviors
  • Economic and Environmental Difficulties
  • Social and Relational Difficulties
  • Sudden Life Changes (death, divorce, etc.)
  • Toxins (molds, heavy metals, etc.)
  • Infections
  • Gut Health Problems
  • Chronic Inflammation

In order to cope with their symptoms, some people will self-medicate, turning to illicit or over-the-counter drugs or alcohol. Substance abuse may then lead to addiction or alcoholism.

How Addiction Harms the Nervous System

Addiction can cause a variety of cognitive and behavioral dysfunctions, especially over the course of long-term use, and different substances affect and impair the user in different ways.


  • Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome (WKS)
  • Pellagra
  • Alcohol-Related Dementia


Impaired cognition in

  • Sensory processing
  • Concentration
  • Motor control


  • Acute/Chronic Paranoia
  • Short attention span
  • Impaired memory


  • Confusion
  • Hyperactivity
  • Impaired short and long-term memory
  • Distorted perception


  • Hyperalertness
  • Pressured speech
  • Psychomotor agitation
  • Irregular mood
  • Psychosis
  • Anxiety
  • Mood disorders


  • Depression
  • Delusions
  • Neuropsychological impairments (learning, decision-making, etc.)
  • Impaired brain development in adolescents


Cognitive deficits in

  • Planning
  • Decision-making
  • Executive functioning


  • Panic attacks
  • Psychotic symptoms
  • Altered sense of reality
  • Depersonalization

Phencyclidine (PCP)

  • Agitation
  • Paranoia
  • Delusions
  • Hallucinations
  • Lack of motivation
  • Catatonia


  • Impaired cognition, movement, vision, and hearing
  • Dementia
  • Central nervous system damage

Can You Heal Addiction By Healing the Nervous System?

When it comes to co-occurring disorders, treating both the addiction as well as the mental or physical disorders is important for holistic treatment and long-term recovery. This is why dual-diagnosis treatment programs are important for those in such conditions.

Heal Your Mind, Body, and Soul from Addiction at Into Action Recovery

Dual diagnosis requires a multi-faceted approach to long-term and effective treatment. We offer a variety of treatment options, covering the whole spectrum of drug and alcohol addiction as well as co-occurring mental health conditions, including residential and outpatient treatment programs.

Some of our recovery treatments and activities include:

  • Cognitive-Behavioral Techniques: Treatment for anxiety, personality, and substance disorders, etc.
  • Motivational Interviews: Normative-based feedback to evaluate motivation over the course of ongoing behavior change.
  • Relapse Prevention Education & Counseling: Training on relapse prevention activities.
  • Relationship Counseling: Identifying and managing or reconciling differences and negative patterns in the client’s relationships.
  • Life Skills Training: Training in skills that meet the demands and challenges of everyday life.
  • Coping Skills Education & Counseling: Training in coping skills for personal and interpersonal challenges, such as facing stressors or triggers.
  • Mindfulness Training: Training in mindfulness and stress reduction techniques.
  • Aftercare & Discharge Planning: Planning for treatment, housing, work, and self-care.

Call us today at 844-303-3969 to begin your journey to lasting recovery.

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