Which Drugs Kill Brain Cells
Different drugs can have neurotoxic and destructive effects on brain cells. Substances that are associated with neurological damage include but are not limited to alcohol, heroin, amphetamines, marijuana, opioids, inhalants, and cocaine.1,2,5
Drugs can damage brain cells through several mechanisms. Psychostimulants and alcohol disrupt the integrity of the blood-brain barrier , which can change the functioning of your brain cells due to increased permeability . Increased permeability means that toxins can more easily cross the BBB.7
Other substances, including alcohol and inhalants, can cause injury to brain cells due to the way they damage the protective sheaths, known as myelin, that surround nerve fibers. This can cause damage like that which occurs in neurological diseases like multiple sclerosis . This type of damage can affect your thinking, movement, vision, and hearing. The neurological symptoms people experience in this case can range from mild to severe.8,9
Changes Last Long After Use
Stopping drug use doesnt immediately return the brain to normal. Some drugs have toxic effects that can kill neuronsand most of these cells will not be replaced. And while changes to connections between neurons in the brain may not be permanent, some last for months. Some research suggests the changes may even last for years.
Long-lasting brain changes can make it challenging for addicts to stay drug-free. They often experience intense cravings, leading to relapse.
Losing Control: How Addiction Transforms The Brain
The understanding that addiction is associated with changes in the brain was slow to come. For years, researchers were only able to examine brains after people had died, and they couldnt see obvious differences between those whod suffered from addiction and those who hadnt.
Fortunately, research tools have improved considerably, and we now have a much greater understanding of how brain systems cause people to become consumed with a substance or behavior. But theres still plenty to learn.
We know there are differences, for example, between the way that men and women are affected, and there are undoubtedly more gender-related variations to discover. Its also not always clear which brain changes are a result of addiction and which drugs are a potential cause.
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How Long Does It Take For The Brain To Heal From Addiction
It may take weeks, months, or even years for the brain to recover from drugs, given how each person is affected differently by drug use. Additionally, each type of drug produces unique effects that determine the length of time it may take for a persons brain to fully heal.
For instance, a person recovering from marijuana addiction typically experiences anxiety and irritability for between one and two weeks, according to the World Health Organization guidelines. This is a significantly shorter recovery time compared with that of benzodiazepine addiction, which can cause the same symptoms plus agitation, poor memory, and poor concentration for up to eight weeks or even longer.
Certain treatments and lifestyle behaviors may accelerate the time it takes for the brain to heal from addiction. Staying abstinent from drugs and alcohol, exercising regularly, and eating a balanced, highly nutritious diet may speed up the brains healing time, as can receiving behavioral therapy and using prescription medications approved for the treatment of neurological conditions.
Rewarding The Brain: How Addictions Develop
The brain regulates temperature, emotion, decision-making, breathing, and coordination. This major organ of the body also impacts physical sensations in the body, cravings, compulsions, and habits. Under the influence of a powerful and harmful chemical, individuals abusing substances like Benzodiazepines or Heroin can alter the function of their brain.
Drugs interact with the limbic system in the brain to release strong feel-good emotions, affecting the individuals body and mind. Individuals continue taking drugs to support the intense feel-good emotions the brain releases this creates a cycle of drug use and intense highs. Eventually, they take the drug just to feel normal.
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Why Are Drugs More Addictive Than Natural Rewards
For the brain, the difference between normal rewards and drug rewards can be likened to the difference between someone whispering into your ear and someone shouting into a microphone. Just as we turn down the volume on a radio that is too loud, the brain of someone who misuses drugs adjusts by producing fewer neurotransmitters in the reward circuit, or by reducing the number of receptors that can receive signals. As a result, the person’s ability to experience pleasure from naturally rewarding activities is also reduced.
This is why a person who misuses drugs eventually feels flat, without motivation, lifeless, and/or depressed, and is unable to enjoy things that were previously pleasurable. Now, the person needs to keep taking drugs to experience even a normal level of rewardwhich only makes the problem worse, like a vicious cycle. Also, the person will often need to take larger amounts of the drug to produce the familiar highan effect known as tolerance.
For more information on drugs and the brain, order NIDAs Teaching Addiction Science series or the Mind Matters series at www.drugabuse.gov/parent-teacher.html. These items and others are available to the public free of charge.
Key Points To Understand The Brain And Addiction:
1. Some characteristics of addiction are similar to other chronic diseases.
Just as cardiovascular disease damages the heart and changes its functioning, addiction changes the brain and impairs the way it works. Below is an image of the brain and the heart .
These images show how scientists can use imaging technology to measure functioning of the brain and heart. Greater activity is shown in reds and yellows, and reduced activity is shown in blues and purples. Both the healthy brain and the healthy heart show greater activity than the diseased brain and heart, because both addiction and heart disease cause changes in function. In drug addiction, the frontal cortex in particular shows less activity. This is the part of the brain associated with judgment and decision-making .
Addiction is similar to other chronic diseases in the following ways:
- It is preventable
- If untreated, it can last a lifetime
2. Substances of misuse trick the brains reward system.
Below is a picture of the brain and the nucleus accumbens, in addition to some other brain regions that are affected by addition.
The brains nucleus accumbens activated by alcohol
Addictive drugs can provide a shortcut to the brains reward system by flooding the nucleus accumbens with dopamine. Additionally, addictive drugs can release 2 to 10 times the amount of dopamine that natural rewards do, and they do it more quickly and reliably.
3. The brain can recover but it takes time!
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Communications In The Brain
Neurons send messages to each other by releasing neurotransmitters that cross a gap, or synapse, between them. The message causes the receiving cell to change and then different molecules recycle the neurotransmitter used to bridge the synapse.5 This is an extremely simplified explanation of one of natures most amazing systems.
Ways To Drive Neuroplastic Change Externally
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Addiction As A Brain Disorder
For years, debate has raged between schools of thought that frame addiction as a choice versus addiction as a disease. Through an understanding of the brain as an adaptable organ, we can reach a more sophisticated model, describing addiction as a reorientation of the brain that creates new neural pathways and perpetuates addictive behavior. Rather than arbitrary choice, the addicts brain has remapped itself to make feeding addiction the most natural course of action.
When a person indulges in addictive behavior, their brain floods with dopamine. Dopamine release is not only highly rewarding, it also increases the ability to learn, and tells the brain, Remember how this happened so you can feel this way again. As the behavior is performed again and again, the level of dopamine release decreases, and new extremes must be reached for the same effect. Eventually, tolerance may build to such a point that the addictive behavior no longer provides pleasure at allmerely avoidance of withdrawal. But even in the face of diminished rewards, the neural pathways beg for the repetition of the behavior the brain is now built for addiction.
Drugs Can Cause Permanent Harm To The Brain We’re Only Beginning To Find Ways To Heal The Hurt
All addictive drugs work within the brain, but the feelings of euphoria that they produce often come at a cost. Some can cause brain damage by triggering seizures or strokes or even result in direct, toxic effects on brain cells.
For example, cocaine can causemicroscopic strokes in the brain, creating dead spots among the organs neural circuitry. Anddrug addiction, in part, is defined by its ability to cause long-lasting changes in the brain. These changes can distort the functioning of different brain circuits, including those that control pleasure, stress, impulse control, learning and memory.
For years, researchers have been working tocounteract these changes by tapping into the brains ability to adapt and repair itself. Because the brain is plastic, or able to adapt and change, it can use other neural circuits to perform functions that have been disabled by damaged cells.
Scientists are making progress on treatments to reverse drug-related brain damage. Earlier this year, researchers were able toreverse brain inflammation and even damage to nerve cells in rats who were given alcohol as adolescents.
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How Long Will It Take To Fully Recover My Dopamine Receptors
This entirely depends on the user, how much of the drug youve been taking and for how long.
For example, someone taking 60-90 milligrams of Adderall per day for around a year can expect a 6-12 month withdrawal period, with the first 30 days consisting of sharp withdrawal symptoms, and the rest consisting of Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome, or PAWS, in which withdrawal comes in waves.
If you or a loved one is dealing with Adderall addiction, dont quit and keep pushing, recovery is possible and with the right supplements, it is now faster than ever before. For more information, checkout the sources below, and good luck!
Building Resiliency To Help Recovery
The term resilience comes from the Latin word resilio, which means to bounce back.23 Resilience is the ability to recover from and push through adversity and difficulty, which is a huge aspect of the recovery process.
How Resiliency Helps in Recovery and Beyond
Resiliency can help in the recovery process to push through treatment even when it gets hard, or when it seems like it will never get better, or when you experience a relapse.
Resilience involves taking a step back, evaluating the situation, and moving forward from it rather than giving up. Building resiliency includes:
- Learning from the past, including successes and failures
- Accepting that change will happen and adapting to it
- Recognizing that having a strong support system is important during the recovery process
- Focusing on self-care
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Brain Damage Caused By Mdma Or Ecstasy
MDMA or Ecstasy, is a drug that dramatically changes the brain from the very first time you take it. It alters the ability of neurons to transport serotonin, which is vital to many functions of the brain. When you take this drug, serotonin is unable to be transported as effectively, and in the long run, this can lead to problems with memory and learning. Some studies suggest that the brain does not completely heal from MDMA use even after 18 months of being clean.
Other studies show that the healing begins around two weeks after being clean, and scans will look similar to a control group at about 18 months, even though the neurons may act differently than before. So, after just a single use, youre looking at over 18 months of healing before youll be 100-percent better. Thats a long time for a hit that wont last through the evening.
Areas Of The Brain Affected By Substance Use
While alcohol and drugs affect the entire brain, some regions are more involved with SUD than others. The National Institute on Drug Abuse explains the effects of drugs on the brain in the article Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction, which focuses on the overstimulation of three key brain areas: the basal ganglia, the extended amygdala, and the pre-frontal cortex.
- The basal ganglia, associated with the brains reward system, recognizes pleasurable activities such as enjoying a good meal or having fun with friends. When overstimulated by drug use, though, it loses sensitivity to natural neurotransmitters, such as dopamine. With continued drug use, drugs become the only stimulus that activates this reward center.
- The extended amygdala is associated with negative emotions such as stress, anxiety, and irritability. These are symptoms a person experiences when a substance leaves the bloodstream. To avoid the negative symptoms of withdrawal, individuals often take more drugs, creating a feedback loop.
- The pre-frontal cortex is the area of the brain that governs decision making, logic, problem-solving, self-control, and impulse control. When this area of the brain is affected by drugs, confusion and poor decisions dominate the cognitive process.
Several drugs, including alcohol, affect the cerebellum. The cerebellum assists with muscle control and coordination, which is why people who have had too many drinks may stumble and weave when they walk.
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The Three Phases Of Neuroplasticity After Trauma
Some people with severe damage to the brain are able to recover full functionality. We now know that this is because of neuroplasticity. Researchers observing changes in the brains of people who have experienced serious trauma determined that the brain goes through three phases of neuroplasticity:
Many pharmacological treatments to encourage neuroplasticity when recovering from brain injury are currently in development and testing. Also, therapies involving stem cells, modifying gene expression and cellular proliferation, regulating inflammatory reactions, and recruiting immune cells to stop the damage are being studied.
How Does Your Brain Recover From Drug Abuse
Your brain can recover from drug abuse thanks to neuroplasticity, which is an umbrella term that refers to the brains ability to modify, change, and adapt its structure and function throughout our lives and in response to our experiences. Also known as neural plasticity or brain plasticity, our brains can change and grow and reorganize themselves according to our experiences.
Neural plasticity makes it possible for us to learn new languages, solve complex mathematical problems, develop technical skills, and perform athletic skills, all of which are crucial for us. Although neuroplasticity is one reason why our brains can develop addictions, its also the key to unlocking sobriety.
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Can Neurotransmitters Be Damaged
Neurotransmitters play a vital role in the normal function of the brain and body. These naturally produced chemicals help to regulate moods, body movements, and coordination. They also affect appetite levels, motivation, stress levels, memory, and learning, even the ability to think clearly and make sound decisions. To put it simply, they are intricately involved in virtually every facet of your day-to-day life. Neurotransmitters impaired by drug abuse can become overstimulated, blocked, and exhausted, leaving insufficient quantities for proper function. What happens if neurotransmitters are drug-damaged? Drugs take over the regular functions of your neurotransmitters, disrupt communication, and inhibit the way your transmitters are supposed to perform. This condition is called drug dependence or addiction, where the body has adapted to the presence of toxic drugs, leaving neurochemistry in a tragic state of disarray.23
Does Your Brain Damage Heal After Quitting Drugs
Oct 6, 2021 | Blog
Drug use can interfere with the normal chemistry in the brain, and misusing medications often causes a significant amount of damage. These changes may not cause any symptoms at first, but over time they become more noticeable to both others and the user. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, drug addiction occurs when repeated drug use leads to changes in the function of multiple brain circuits. The good news is that once an individual quits taking drugs, the brain can begin to heal and over time resume its normal operation.
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