Drug Abuse, Dopamine and the Brain’s Reward System

Substance abuse and mental health are linked because the psychological effects of drug addiction, including alcohol, cause changes in your body and brain. A careful balance of chemicals keeps the cogs turning inside your body, and even the smallest change can cause you to experience negative symptoms. Because the risk factors for mental health and substance abuse are comparable, this may be attributed to the fact that drug addiction can cause or worsen mental health conditions. Because addiction is a long-term struggle, substance abuse can have long-term consequences on the brain. Drugs and alcohol impact the areas of the mind responsible for kindling motivation and emotion. Over time, drug use can affect cognitive functions, causing users to lack concentration and sound judgment, have delayed reactions, experience memory loss, or feel confused and lethargic.

Long-term usage of alcohol only solidifies these effects, causing brain atrophy, memory loss, cognitive decline, and other health issues. With compromised neurotransmitter function comes slurred speech, blurry vision, and slower reaction times — which are especially dangerous when operating a vehicle. Alcohol is arguably one of the easiest drugs to access and to justify its ongoing use. However, alcohol consumption, especially in excess, has many damaging effects on brain function.

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You may misuse drugs to feel good, ease stress, or avoid reality. But usually, you’re able to change your unhealthy habits or stop using altogether. Over time, the brain adapts in a way that actually makes the sought-after substance or activity less pleasurable. In the 1930s, when researchers first began to investigate what caused addictive behavior, they believed that people who developed addictions were somehow morally flawed or lacking in willpower. Overcoming addiction, they thought, involved punishing miscreants or, alternately, encouraging them to muster the will to break a habit. Whether it’s alcohol, prescription pain pills, nicotine, gambling, or something else, overcoming an addiction isn’t as simple as just stopping or exercising greater control over impulses.

Certain types of drugs can mimic the natural neurotransmitters and cause the brain to activate different hormones and neurons. Not only can it change the way the brain functions, but it can also damage the cells. Over time, this can lead to problems with memory, decision making, and emotional control. It can also increase your risk for other mental health conditions like anxiety and depression. If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, it’s important to get help.

How do drugs affect the brain?

This part of the brain helps people reason, make decisions, solve problems, determine the risks and rewards of different behaviors and actions, and communicate with others. When someone uses a substance, whether for recreational purposes, to self-medicate a mood disorder, or control pain after a surgery or injury, they often experience a euphoric or relaxing effect. This pleasurable response registers in the brain’s reward system as a positive, desirable experience.

What drugs affect serotonin?

The drugs and supplements that could potentially cause serotonin syndrome include: Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), antidepressants such as citalopram (Celexa), fluoxetine (Prozac), fluvoxamine (Luvox), escitalopram (Lexapro), paroxetine (Paxil, Pexeva, Brisdelle) and sertraline (Zoloft)

The brain regulates your body’s basic functions, enables you to interpret and respond to everything you experience, and shapes your behavior. In short, your brain is you—everything you think and feel, and who you are. A healthy brain rewards healthy behaviors—like exercising, eating, or bonding with loved ones.

How Does Addiction Affect the Brain?

While scientists can’t accurately determine whether this atrophy, or shrinkage, was due entirely to alcohol or just loss of cells with aging, something is interesting to note. Within weeks of not drinking, this atrophy showed significant improvements. If the atrophy was caused by “normal” brain cell death, this wouldn’t happen. Some studies have stated that mild drinking — one drink a day for women, two for men — has few ill effects.

Just as cardiovascular disease damages the heart and diabetes impairs the pancreas, addiction hijacks the brain. This happens as the brain goes through a series of changes, beginning with recognition of pleasure and ending with a drive toward compulsive behavior. For many years, experts believed that only alcohol and powerful drugs could cause addiction. Neuroimaging technologies and more recent research, however, have shown that certain pleasurable activities, such as gambling, shopping, and sex, can also co-opt the brain. When someone battling addiction enters a facility, they receive medication and have access to innovative treatments.

Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health

After a drug overdose, you’ll need immediate and accurate information about the specific name of the drug, the amount of the drug ingested, and the time when the drug was taken. Often, the bottle the drug came in will have the information needed. The cause of a drug overdose is either by accidental overuse or by intentional misuse. Accidental overdoses result from either a young child or an adult with impaired mental abilities swallowing a medication left within their grasp.

  • To bring stimulation down to a more manageable level, the brain must try to adapt.
  • They’ve shown that addiction is a long-lasting and complex brain disease, and that current treatments can help people control their addictions.
  • If you’re depressed, have trouble paying attention, or worry constantly, you have a higher chance of addiction.
  • However, the weight of these feelings forces them to seek comfort in substances.
  • Once someone suddenly stops using, there are harsh mental, physical, and emotional results.

Drug addiction isn’t about just heroin, cocaine, or other illegal drugs. You can get addicted to alcohol, nicotine, sleep and anti-anxiety medications, and other legal substances. Some drugs have toxic effects that can kill neurons—and 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. All addictive drugs affect brain pathways involving reward—that is, the dopamine system in the reward pathway. Addictive drugs provide a shortcut to the brain’s reward system by flooding the nucleus accumbens with dopamine.

Addiction Myths vs. Facts

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 Top 5 Questions to Ask Yourself When Choosing Sober House of their brain. 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 reward—which only makes the problem worse, like a vicious cycle.

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