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How Do Drugs Of Abuse Affect The Brain Site 1

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Different Drugs Different Effects

How Drugs Affect the Brain

Drugs affect your body’s central nervous system. They affect how you think, feel and behave. The three main types are depressants, hallucinogens and stimulants:

  • Depressants slow or ‘depress’ the function of the central nervous system. They slow the messages going to and from your brain. In small quantities depressants can cause a person to feel relaxed and less inhibited. In large amounts they may cause vomiting, unconsciousness and death. Depressants affect your concentration and coordination, and slow your ability to respond to situations. It is important to not operate heavy machinery while taking depressants. Alcohol, cannabis, GHB, opiates and benzodiazepines are examples of depressants.
  • Hallucinogens distort your sense of reality. You may see or hear things that are not really there, or see things in a distorted way. Other effects can include emotional and psychological euphoria, jaw clenching, panic, paranoia, gastric upset and nausea. Ketamine, LSD, PCP, ‘magic mushrooms’ and cannabis are examples of hallucinogens.
  • Stimulants speed or ‘stimulate’ the central nervous system. They speed up messaging to and from the brain, making you feel more alert and confident. This can cause increased heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature, reduced appetite, agitation and sleeplessness. In large amounts stimulants may cause anxiety, panic, seizures, stomach cramps and paranoia. Caffeine, nicotine, amphetamines , cocaine and ecstasy are examples of stimulants.

What Are The Short

Dissociative drugs can produce visual and auditory distortions and a sense of floating and dissociation in users. Use of dissociative drugs can also cause anxiety, memory loss, and impaired motor function, including body tremors and numbness. These effects, which depend on the amount of the drug taken, are also unpredictabletypically beginning within minutes of ingestion and lasting for several hours, although some users report feeling the drugs effects for days. See text box for general effects of dissociative drugs.

General Common Effects of Dissociative Drugs

Low to Moderate Doses
  • Disorientation, confusion, and loss of coordination
  • Dizziness, nausea, vomiting
  • Changes in sensory perceptions
  • Hallucinations
  • Feelings of detachment from self and environment
  • Increase in blood pressure, heart rate, respiration, and body temperature
  • Hallucinations
  • Memory loss
  • Physical distress, including dangerous changes in blood pressure, heart rate, respiration, and body temperature
  • Use with high doses of alcohol or other central nervous system depressants can lead to respiratory distress or arrest, resulting in death

Why The Teenage Brain Is Susceptible To Addiction

Some studies of the human brain have attempted to pinpoint the changes that occur during adolescence. Health researchers have found that dramatic spurts of both physical and intellectual growth happen during the teenage years the negative health effects of teen substance abuse can interfere with these crucial processes at exactly the wrong time.

As the brain develops, some functions mature at different rates.

The pleasure centers of a teenagers brain develop faster than the parts of the brain responsible for decision-making and risk analysis.

Teens are more likely to perceive social benefits to drug use than they are to evaluate negative effects. If youre concerned about substance abuse in the life of a teen you know, contact a treatment provider for help and support.

Featured Centers Offering Treatment For Teenagers

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Origins Of Drug Liking

Many factors, both individual and environmental, influence whether a particular person who experiments with opioid drugs will continue taking them long enough to become dependent or addicted. For individuals who do continue, the opioids ability to provide intense feelings of pleasure is a critical reason.

When heroin, oxycodone, or any other opiate travels through the bloodstream to the brain, the chemicals attach to specialized proteins, called mu opioid receptors, on the surfaces of opiate-sensitive neurons . The linkage of these chemicals with the receptors triggers the same biochemical brain processes that reward people with feelings of pleasure when they engage in activities that promote basic life functions, such as eating and sex. Opioids are prescribed therapeutically to relieve pain, but when opioids activate these reward processes in the absence of significant pain, they can motivate repeated use of the drug simply for pleasure.

The Mesolimbic Reward System

When drugs stimulate mu opioid receptors in the brain, cells in the ventral tegmental area produce dopamine and release it into the nucleus accumbens , giving rise to feelings of pleasure. Feedback from the prefrontal cortex to the VTA helps us overcome drives to obtain pleasure through actions that may be unsafe or unwise, but this feedback appears to be compromised in individuals who become addicted to drugs. The locus ceruleus is an area of the brain that plays an important role in drug dependence.

How Do Drugs Affect Your Brain


Drugs are chemicals. When someone puts these chemicals into their body, either by smoking, injecting, inhaling, or eating them, they tap into the brains communication system and tamper with the way nerve cells normally send, receive, and process information. Different drugsbecause of their chemical structureswork differently. We know there are at least two ways drugs work in the brain:

  • Imitating the brains natural chemical messengers
  • Overstimulating the reward circuit of the brain

Some drugs, like and heroin, have chemical structures that mimic a neurotransmitter that naturally occurs in our bodies. In fact, these drugs can fool our receptors, lock onto them, and activate the nerve cells. However, they don’t work the same way as a natural neurotransmitter, and the neurons wind up sending abnormal messages through the brain, which can cause problems both for our brains and our bodies.

Other drugs, such as cocaine and methamphetamine, cause nerve cells to release too much dopamine, a natural neurotransmitter, or prevent the normal recycling of dopamine. This leads to exaggerated messages in the brain, causing problems with communication channels. Its like the difference between someone whispering in your ear versus someone shouting in a microphone.

The High From Drugs/Pleasure Effect

The Repeat Effect

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Opioid Tolerance Dependence And Withdrawal

From a clinical standpoint, opioid withdrawal is one of the most powerful factors driving opioid dependence and addictive behaviors. Treatment of the patients withdrawal symptoms is based on understanding how withdrawal is related to the brains adjustment to opioids.

Repeated exposure to escalating dosages of opioids alters the brain so that it functions more or less normally when the drugs are present and abnormally when they are not. Two clinically important results of this alteration are opioid tolerance and drug dependence . Withdrawal symptoms occur only in patients who have developed tolerance.

Opioid tolerance occurs because the brain cells that have opioid receptors on them gradually become less responsive to the opioid stimulation. For example, more opioid is needed to stimulate the VTA brain cells of the mesolimbic reward system to release the same amount of DA in the NAc. Therefore, more opioid is needed to produce pleasure comparable to that provided in previous drug-taking episodes.

The Neurobiological Basis of Dependence and Withdrawal

The locus ceruleus is an area of the brain that is critically involved in the production of opioid dependence and withdrawal. The diagrams show how opioid drugs affect processes in the LC that control the release of noradrenaline , a brain chemical that stimulates wakefulness, muscle tone, and respiration, among other functions.

Recognizing Substance Abuse In Older Adults

The potential for additional drug-related complications underscores the importance of recognizing and treating substance abuse in older adults. Recognizing inappropriate drug use in this population, however, can be complicated by a number of factors. For example, almost half of primary care physicians surveyed reported that they found it difficult to discuss prescription drug abuse with their patients , 2000). This finding suggests that health-care professionals in the best position to identify and facilitate treatment of substance abuse disorders may not, as a matter of course, seek out a thorough knowledge of their patients’ drug use behaviors. Furthermore, currently available diagnostic criteria for substance abuse were developed and validated in young- and middle-aged samples and thus may not be appropriate for older adults. For example, some DSM IV criteria for substance dependence, such as tolerance and activity reduction, may not apply to this population . Aging may interfere with the body’s ability to develop tolerance an older person, therefore, may demonstrate greater drug-related problems even though their patterns of use have remained stable . Additionally, older adults, by dint of normal age-related changes, may become less active rendering detection of substance abuse problems more difficult . Finally, warning signs of drug abuse may be confused with or masked by concurrent illnesses, or attributed to normal aging.

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The Effects Of Drugs On The Brain

  • The Effects of Drugs on the Brain
  • Article written by Chloe Nicosia

    The human bodys most complex organ is the brain which acts as the center of all human activity. The brain is made up of different parts that work together to regulate the bodys basic functions. Different parts of the brain perform different functions and drugs can alter the areas of the brain that are necessary for these functions.

    Drugs can affect different areas of the brain including the brain stem which controls the basic functions critical for life, such as breathing and heart rate. Drugs also affect the cerebral cortex which is divided into areas that work to control different functions. The frontal cortex is the brains thinking center and it controls the ability to think, make decisions, solve problems, and plan. In addition, the limbic system can also be affected by drug use. The limbic system contains the brains reward circuit as it links a number of brain structures together that regulate and control the ability to feel pleasure. The limbic system can be activated by healthy activities but can also be activated by commonly abused drugs.

    Adolescent Substance Use And Neurocognition

    How Addiction Affects The Brain

    The current literature suggests that heavy drinking during adolescence does have a subtle, but significant, deleterious effects on adolescent neurocognitive functioning. Studies have found that adolescent heavy drinkers exhibit decrements in memory , attention and speeded information processing , , and executive functioning . In a study comparing alcohol dependent and healthy control adolescents, Brown et al. found that drinkers recalled 10% less verbal and nonverbal information than controls, even after three weeks of monitored abstinence. A similar degree of reduction was found on attentional and speeded information processing tasks in abstinent adolescent drinkers . These findings are consistent with literature examining neurocognitive deficits in young heavy drinkers, which found similar decreases on attention and information processing, along with deficits in language competence and academic achievement . Deficits in executive functioning, specifically in future planning, abstract reasoning strategies, and generation of new solutions to problems, have also been found .

    In summary, adolescence is characterized by dramatic increases in rates of substance use concurrent with ongoing neuromaturation. While neuropsychological studies have shown that adolescent substance use is linked to poorer spatial, inhibitory, and learning and memory functioning, neuroimaging techniques may elucidate the neural mechanisms of these performance deficits.

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    Differences Based On Race And Ethnicity

    Research on the neurobiological factors contributing to differential rates of substance use and substance use disorders in particular racial and ethnic groups is much more limited. A study using functional magnetic resonance imaging found that African American smokers showed greater activation of the prefrontal cortex upon exposure to smoking-related cues than did White smokers, an effect that may partly contribute to the lower smoking-cessation success rates observed among African Americans.

    The Effects Of Drug Abuse On Health

    Substance use disorders are associated with a wide range of short- and long-term health effects. They can vary depending on the type of drug, how much and how often its taken and the persons general health. Overall, the effects of drug abuse and dependence can be far-reaching. They can impact almost every organ in the human body.

    Side effects of drug addiction may include:

    • A weakened immune system, increasing the risk of illness and infection
    • Heart conditions ranging from abnormal heart rates to heart attacks and collapsed veins and blood vessel infections from injected drugs
    • Nausea and abdominal pain, which can also lead to changes in appetite and weight loss
    • Increased strain on the liver, which puts the person at risk of significant liver damage or liver failure
    • Seizures, stroke, mental confusion and brain damage
    • Lung disease
    • Problems with memory, attention and decision-making, which make daily living more difficult
    • Global effects of drugs on the body, such as breast development in men and increases in body temperature, which can lead to other health problems

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    How Science Has Revolutionized The Understanding Of Drug Addiction

    For much of the past century, scientists studying drugs and drug use labored in the shadows of powerful myths and misconceptions about the nature of addiction. When scientists began to study addictive behavior in the 1930s, people with an addiction were thought to be morally flawed and lacking in willpower. Those views shaped societys responses to drug use, treating it as a moral failing rather than a health problem, which led to an emphasis on punishment rather than prevention and treatment.

    Today, thanks to science, our views and our responses to addiction and the broader spectrum of substance use disorders have changed dramatically. Groundbreaking discoveries about the brain have revolutionized our understanding of compulsive drug use, enabling us to respond effectively to the problem.

    As a result of scientific research, we know that addiction is a medical disorder that affects the brain and changes behavior. We have identified many of the biological and environmental risk factors and are beginning to search for the genetic variations that contribute to the development and progression of the disorder. Scientists use this knowledge to develop effective prevention and treatment approaches that reduce the toll drug use takes on individuals, families, and communities.

    Nora D. Volkow, M.D.

    Heroin And Prescription Opioids

    How drugs

    Heroin and prescription opioid drugs like OxyContin , Vicodin , fentanyl, methadone,and Dilaudid bind to opioid receptors in the brain and trigger the release of dopamine. In a sense, thesedrugs hijack the limbic system in the brain, inducing a powerful high that individuals are often keen to recreate, leadingto reinforcing behaviors. Opioid drugs are considered highly addictive, asASAM publishes that almost a quarter of heroin users will suffer from addiction to opioids. Over 2.5 million Americansbattled opioid addiction in 2015. Heroin is considered the fastest-acting opioid, taking effect nearly immediately andmaking it extremely addictive, theDrug Enforcement Administration warns. When someone takes an opioid drug repeatedly, they can develop a toleranceto it as the body gets used to its interaction in the brain. Individuals may then take more of the drug to feel the desiredeffects. The brain will then stop functioning as it did before introduction of the opioid, causing levels of dopamine todrop when the drug wears off.

    Dependence on opioids can form rather quickly. Physical withdrawal symptoms may resemble the flu, and emotional withdrawalsymptoms include depression, anxiety, and insomnia.

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    Risks Of Substance Use

    The guide also highlights the risks of substance use among teens. Substance use can do the following:

    • Affect the growth and development of teens, especially brain development.
    • Occur more frequently with other risky behaviors, such as unprotected sex and dangerous driving.
    • Contribute to the development of adult health problems, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and sleep disorders.

    Finally, the earlier teens start using substances, the greater their chances of continuing to use substances and developing substance use problems later in life. When teens begin drinking at an early age, they increase the chance of becoming addicted to or continuing to abuse substances later in life.

    Neurobiological Effects Of Polysubstance Use And Emerging Drug Products

    Patterns of alcohol and drug use change over time. New drugs or drug combinations, delivery systems, and routes of administration emerge, and with them new questions for public health. For example, concern is growing that increasing use of marijuana extracts with extremely high amounts of THC could lead to higher rates of addiction among marijuana users. Concerns also are emerging about how new products about which little is known, such as synthetic cannabinoids and synthetic cathinones, affect the brain. Additional research is needed to better understand how such products – as well as emerging addictive substances – affect brain function and behavior, and contribute to addiction.

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    The Benefits Of Sobriety From Alcohol

    Once alcoholics refrain from drinking, brain atrophy begins to reverse. Thats one way in which being sober has positive effects on the brain. But theres more.

    Tests that began in the early 2000s prove that the brain has a considerable resurgence of cell development as a result of abstaining from alcohol. Since alcohol dependency slows neurogenesis, or brain development, sobriety has the opposite effect. The hippocampus, along with its reversal of atrophy, also sees new brain cell growth, though this doesnt happen immediately.

    The early stages of recovery often show cognitive decline from previous substance use, an effect which may persist for some time. However, the longer one remains sober, the more cognitive function improves. This is why its important to minimize stress in the beginning stages of treatment and recovery.

    Physical exercise is another way to promote brain cell growth and why many treatment centers supplement sobriety with physical activity and organized nutrition.

    Now You Know How Drugs Affect The Brain

    Drugs and the Brain (International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking)

    Every drug affects the brain in some way, often with dire consequences whether it is the alcohol we can legally purchase at local stores, or drugs like fentanyl or cocaine.

    Knowing how drugs affect the brain is one way to understand how drugs affect us as people and as a society. Once we accept that addiction is the brains natural response to excessive drug use, we can eventually de-stigmatize it.

    If you or a loved one need help for an alcohol or drug addiction, youre not alone. At least 1 in 7 people suffer from some form of substance addiction. Sadly, only about 10 percent of those seek out the help they need.

    Dont continue to suffer in silence. You and your family deserve to experience a life well-lived, a life that is healthy, happy and drug-free.

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