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How Do Drugs Affect the Brain?

Addiction is considered a brain disease because it makes very dramatic changes to the physical structure of the brain. As these changes are made, it becomes more and more difficult for a person to stop using drugs or alcohol. Depending on the substance one is a addicted to, they may become physically dependent. This means that they must continue to use the drug more frequently and in higher amounts to achieve the same high, or they will face discomforting and painful withdrawal symptoms.

The brain communicated through billions of nerve cells called neurons. Each neuron can send and receive message from electric or chemical signals. Drugs tap into the brain’s communication and disrupt the ways that neurons send, receive, and process information. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, some drugs, like marijuana and cocaine, work by mimicking the chemical structure of of natural neurotransmitters. The NIDA explains, “Although these drugs mimic the brain’s own chemicals, they don’t activate neurons in the same way as a natural neurotransmitter, and they lead to abnormal messages being transmitted through the network.” Other drugs, like cocaine and amphetamine, cause the brain to release large amounts of natural neurotransmitters and “this disruption produces a greatly amplified message, ultimately disrupting communication channels.”

Many drugs flood the brain with a pleasure-producing neurotransmitter called dopamine. Usually, dopamine is released during natural pleasurable activities, like eating food and having sex, but the brain gets accustomed to the surges in dopamine caused by drugs. According to Alan Hall, in a 1997 Scientific American article entitled Closing in on Addiction, “This activity increases levels of sundry neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and serotonin, inducing pleasurable feelings. Most drugs over-activate the circuit, so that addicts in danger will often turn to one or several substances instead of self-preservation.” In the same manner, the brain begins to tell a person to use drugs rather than engage in natural pleasure-producing activities.

The natural feelings of reward become diminished, causing a person to reach a point where they have to use drugs just to feel “normal.” According to Nora D. Volkow, in a 2018 Scientific American article entitled What Does It Mean When We Call Addiction a Brain Disorder, “Our reward and self-control circuits evolved precisely to enable us to discover new, important, healthy rewards, remember them, and pursue them single-mindedly; drugs are sometimes said to ‘hijack’ those circuits.” These changes make it nearly impossible for a person to stop using drugs without help. Fortunately, through detoxification and sobriety, the brain is able to repair itself and bring a person back to health and happiness.

Your life can become one of peace of mind and serenity in recovery. You can make the courageous decision to seek help now and begin building a life of happiness, joyousness, and freedom in sobriety. Resilient House, located in beautiful Shreveport, Louisiana, brings together behavioral health and addiction specialists, holistic expert, and spiritual so to help you heal your mind, body, and spirit and build a brighter future. For information about treatment options, please call today: (833) 242-6431