Understanding the Effects of Long Term Drug Abuse on the Brain
Drug addiction is a chronic brain disease, and it can cause you to compulsively seek out drugs even though you’re aware of the harmful results taking them can cause. Initially, your choice to take drugs is voluntary. So, if someone offers you drugs, you can easily say you’d like to try some, or you might decline and will have no ill effect from doing so. After you take drugs for a longer period of time, the addiction sets in and you no longer can refuse drugs without withdrawal symptoms. What causes these symptoms, and why is it so hard to quit taking drugs?
When you take drugs, your brain changes the way it works. It will change to cause you to be unable to resist the impulse to take drugs; you may feel that you need them. Because of this, many people have a difficult time quitting drugs without medical help. There is more to the story behind what happens to the brain, and there are a lot of changes that you should be aware of.
When you take drugs, the chemicals in the drugs enter the brain and begin their journey to altering your brain’s chemical makeup. These chemicals disrupt the communication process, which means your nerve cells won’t be receiving information, processing information, or sending information the way they should be.
Drugs cause this to happen in two ways. First, a drug can imitate the natural chemicals of the brain, which will trick the body into reacting in a different way. For instance, if the drug mimics serotonin, the body may respond with euphoria. Second, drugs are able to overstimulate the part of the brain that feels it was rewarded; this means that when you take the drug, you’ll feel good about it. If you always feel good about taking it, you’re more likely to want to do so again.
Different drugs work in different ways. So, for instance, marijuana will mimic the neurotransmitters and trick the brain into sending abnormal messages to the rest of the body. Usually these messages cause the drug user to feel happiness or other good feelings. Cocaine causes the nerve cells to release large amounts of certain neurotransmitters and prevents them from being reabsorbed. If it’s a chemical like dopamine or serotonin, you’re going to feel very happy and relaxed when this happens. If it’s a chemical like adrenaline that is being triggered, you’ll likely be paranoid and anxious during the time the drug is active.
The problem with drugs like these is that they are not always going to elicit the same response. The brain is intelligent; when it realizes that it will receive large amounts of feel-good chemicals, it also learns to want more of them to get the same feeling. This is normally referred to as a tolerance, and the danger and effects of drug abuse that leads many addicts to hospitalization and death. You can build a tolerance after the very first time you take a drug, which means you’ll need to constantly increase the dosage you take to get the same feeling as the first time.
The brain undergoes long-term changes during drug abuse. If the brain has to try to compensate for the loss or alteration of glutamate, a chemical that helps you concentrate, you’ll have impaired cognitive function. Basically, you will have a hard time reasoning and understanding the situations you’re in. You may respond more slowly than usual or have delayed reflexes.
Drugs change the areas of the brain that control important things like judgment. Decision making, behavior control, and things like memory or learning abilities will all be influenced. When all of these sections are altered, a drug user can be driven to take more and more of the drug, even though it is dangerous.
Some people do not become addicted as quickly as others, and this is due to many factors. However, it is important to understand that taking drugs while an adolescent can have more serious consequences. This is because adolescence is a stage of growth where the brain is changing and developing; changes made with drugs at that point could be permanent. If you or your loved one is suffering from alcohol or drug addiction, give us a call at to discuss the possible treatment and recovery options.