How Drugs Affect the Brain

There is a common comparison made between the brain and a supercomputer. The brain’s billions of cells, known as neurons, are arranged into circuits and networks rather than electrical circuits on silicon chips that control modern technological devices.
Every neuron is like a little switch that determines which data gets transmitted where. A neuron will “fire” and transmit its own signal through the circuit if it gets enough impulses from other neurons to which it is connected.
The brain’s various components and networks of interconnected circuits function as a single unit. The various brain circuits each play a role in coordinating and carrying out a certain set of tasks.
Multiple regions of the brain, spinal cord, and peripheral nerves are all in constant communication with one another because to networks of neurons that relay information between them.
As can be seen, the brain is a complex and fascinating structure which can be affected in various ways by different chemicals – especially those existent in drugs and alcohol. Understanding the effect of drugs and alcohol on the brain is an important part of realizing the detrimental repercussions which drug abuse can have on your health and wellbeing. South Africa is home to a burgeoning population of recovering addicts, counsellors, and specialists, making it an excellent setting for the best drug rehabs South AfricaGet in touch with us for more information on our affordable Rehab.

How do drugs affect the brain?

Drugs alter the ways in which neurons communicate with one another and process information through altering the function of neurotransmitters, which is how substance abuse affects the brain.
Because their chemical structure is similar to that of a naturally occurring neurotransmitter in the body, substances like marijuana and heroin are able to stimulate neurons.

How drug abuse affects the brain
How drug abuse affects the brain
How drug abuse affects the brain

As a result, these drugs are able to bind to the neurons and begin working. Although these medications are structurally similar to natural neurotransmitters, their use results in the aberrant transmission of messages across the brain’s neural network. Drugs like amphetamine and cocaine can disrupt the normal recycling of neurotransmitters by interfering with transporters, leading to excessive release of these chemicals from neurons. Again, this may either amplify or disturb the typical interaction between neurons. Changes in regions of the brain critical for maintaining life can contribute to the obsessive drug seeking and use characteristic of addiction.

Drugs affect the brain’s ability to process pleasure

The basal ganglia are engaged in the establishment of habits and routines and play an essential part in positive kinds of motivation, such as the pleasure consequences of healthy activities like eating, socialising, and romance.
When stimulated, these regions play a crucial role in the brain’s “reward circuit.” The euphoria associated with being “high” on drugs is caused by an overactivation of this circuit.
However, when the circuit gets used to the medication, its sensitivity decreases and it becomes difficult to experience pleasure from anything other than the drug due to substance abuse effects on the brain.

Drugs make the brain more sensitive to anxiety

When the effects of a drug wear off, the user experiences withdrawal symptoms like anxiety, irritation, and unease, all of which have their roots in the enlarged amygdala.
A higher dose of the drug will cause a greater response from this circuit. An individual with a substance use disorder may initially use drugs to get high, but they soon begin to use them to alleviate the symptoms of their disease.

How drug abuse affects the brain
How drug abuse affects the brain

Drugs reduce the brain’s impulse control

The prefrontal cortex provides the neural machinery for executive functions like reasoning, planning, problem-solving, decision-making, and impulse control. Furthermore, because this region of the brain is the last to develop, adolescents are particularly at risk. This circuit, along with the basal ganglia and extended amygdala circuits, is disrupted in people with substance use disorders, leading to obsessive drug seeking and decreased self-control. Opioids and other drugs can also affect other regions of the brain, including the brain stem, which regulates vital bodily functions including heart rate, breathing, and sleep. Because of this disruption, overdosing can result in slowed respiration and ultimately death.

Why drugs are addictive

Similar to how a whisper into your ear is different from a roar into a microphone, the brain perceives the difference between normal rewards and drug rewards as a similar magnitude of stimulation.
In the same way that we might turn down the volume on an overly loud radio, a drug abuser’s brain will adjust by either generating fewer neurotransmitters in the reward circuit or decreasing the number of receptors that can receive signals.
Subsequently, the individual is less able to derive satisfaction from engaging in inherently rewarding (or reinforcing) activities.
This is why a person who abuses drugs may eventually feel uninspired, listless, numb, and/or melancholy, and lose interest in activities that used to bring them pleasure.
It’s a vicious cycle since now the person needs to keep taking the medicines just to feel regular levels of reward. Furthermore, tolerance makes it so that ever higher doses of the drug are required to have the same effect.

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