How Drugs Affect Your Brain Chemistry
The Partnership For A Drug-Free America launched an anti-drug television commercial in 1987 that featured a man cracking an egg into a hot frying pan, declaring, “this is your brain on drugs.”1 The vision wasn’t far from the truth. Drugs have an overwhelmingly harmful effect on your brain. Medical experts have long studied how drugs affect your brain. Your brain makes fewer rewarding brain chemicals, which creates a heavier need to get the same effect.2 Substance use disorder is a cyclical downfall. The more you use drugs, the less your brain generates rewarding brain chemicals. The fewer rewarding chemicals created, the more drug use is necessary to get the same effect. A drastic disruption is necessary to stop the substance use disorder that affects 18.7 million Americans.3
Your Brain on Drugs
Experts believe that when a person uses illicit drugs, they produce a ‘high’ from the waves of chemicals in the brain. Those chemical surges are filled with endorphins, which are often thought of as natural opioids. The feel-good power your body creates when you interact with friends, exercise, or eat tasty food is the same surge the body feels when a person uses drugs.4 The feeling of pleasure causes the brain to identify rewarding behavior and increases the likelihood that you’ll repeat the behavior, even if it’s detrimental to your health.
Also, the brain connects people, places, smells, and social situations to pleasure. These environmental factors are referred to as triggers. For those struggling with substance use disorder, the brain will connect certain circles of friends or particular places with drug use and the subsequent high. As drug use continues, the individual’s ability to experience natural pleasure from formerly rewarding activities reduces drastically.
Short Term: How Drugs Affect Your Brain
When a person introduces drugs to the body, it interferes with the brain’s normal operation. The interruption confuses the brain’s reward center, releasing large levels of dopamine. In addition to the pleasure-causing dopamine, the brain can cause other vital parts of the body to react adversely, including:
- Altering the heart rate
- Causing drastic, unexplained emotional changes
- Changing taste, hearing, vision, smell, and touch
- Increasing energy level
- Increasing willingness to divulge in risky behavior
- Interrupting concentration and problem-solving abilities
- Lowering response times
- Magnifying sleepiness and creating a lethargic feeling
If the brain interprets the effect as positive, even if it’s detrimental to a person’s health, the brain will create a desire to re-engage in the drug use.
Long Term: How Drugs Affect Your Brain
The brain’s ability to create a desire to repeat a rewarding behavior, like drug use, manifests a long-term reliance on illicit substances. When a person battles substance use disorder and continues drug use over a long time, the brain begins to slow dopamine production for fear it creates too much. In addition, the brain will numb certain receptors, making them unable to interpret feelings of pleasure. As this occurs, an increase in drug use is necessary to maintain the same high. The long-term results of how drugs affect your brain are devastating. That damage includes:
- Cognitive functions become impaired.
- The desire for drugs in higher dosages
- Difficulty finding pleasure in once-enjoyable activities
- Disconnecting emotional ties from family and friends
- The feeling of depression evolve with a lack of dopamine
- Recognition of shame resulting in the desire to hide substance use
- Short-term memory loss
While the brain is the organ in control of the body and is at risk for a wide range of negative effects when substance use disorder is present, other organs can also be damaged or cause severe health challenges. With consistent drug use, some long-term effects include an increased risk of comas, brain damage, heart attacks, stroke, and seizures.
Drug Treatment in Costa Mesa
Understanding how drugs affect your brain in the short- and long-term future can help you recognize the need for support to create a life of sobriety. Whether your concern is for a loved one or to explore treatment options for yourself, the experienced drug specialists at Clear Life Recovery can help you develop a treatment plan that’s personalized to individual needs.
Because ongoing drug use affects the brain so drastically, part of the drug rehabilitation approach used in our Orange County addiction treatment facility is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). Our therapists often rely on this successful technique because it produces fast results. By interrupting negative or distorted thoughts created inside the brain of a substance use disorder patient, CBT has minimized the negative emotions and begin the journey to sobriety. Coping skills are developed through this treatment method. Patients can rest assured they’ll not only be supported in the beginning stages of their recovery but that the learned skills will also build long-lasting behavioral changes.
Learn more about CBT and the many other treatment options available at Clear Life Recovery. Our friendly staff will offer information and help you determine your personalized plan to better health and happiness.