How Do Drugs Affect the Brain?

Addiction and substance abuse can affect the body in many different ways. One of the elements of the body that is impacted the most is the brain. Many people overlook the mental and psychological effects drugs can have. But, the effects of drugs on the brain can be permanent and severe in intense cases of addiction. 

The brain is one of the most complex organs in the entire human body. It is necessary for every single action we consciously do in our lives. Driving your car, speaking, eating a meal, drawing, singing, and all other activities are possible because of the brain.

So, it comes as no surprise that using drugs that affect how the brain works can be detrimental in the long run. It’s important to truly recognize how important the brain is to your body and your well-being. Drugs can end up literally changing how your brain functions and works with the rest of your body. 

How the Brain Works

Before looking at how drugs affect the brain, it’s important to know how the brain works on a day-to-day basis. The brain is made up of billions of tiny cells called neurons. These neurons connect and are organized into networks and circuits. Each of these neurons switches and controls the flow of information from the body. When a neuron gets enough signals from other neurons it fires a signal to all other neurons on the circuit. 

These circuits work together to transfer information and perform certain functions. These neurons send signals to other parts of the body and brain consistently. While it may sound simple there are so many different elements to the brain and how it communicates with the rest of the body. 

Neurons release neurotransmitters to send messages from one section to the other. Keep this in mind as we take a look at how drugs affect the brain. Over time, these mechanisms in the brain can completely change if drug and alcohol use continues. 

Effects of Drugs on the Brain

Drugs tend to disrupt the way neurons send, receive, and process the signals from the neurotransmitters. Substances like heroin can activate certain neurons due to the chemical structure of the drug (which mimics the natural neurotransmitters). The drug is able to attach and activate particular neurons. While drugs may imitate the brain’s chemicals, they fail to activate the neurons in the same way a natural neurotransmitter would. 

This usually leads to strange and inconsistent messages through the network of neurons. More intense drugs like cocaine and methamphetamine can release unnaturally large amounts of natural neurotransmitters. They can also prevent regular recycling of brain chemicals. This further creates complications in the brain’s communication with the neurons. 

A Look at How Drugs Create Pleasure in the Brain

Many drugs tend to create a certain euphoria or ‘high’. This is one of the primary reasons that many people use drugs (in a recreational sense). While this euphoria isn’t completely understood at the moment, it involves surges of chemical signaling compounds.

These chemical compounds include the natural endorphins and other neurotransmitters in the basal ganglia (the reward circuit). Drugs cause much bigger bursts of neurotransmitters as opposed to the small, healthy amounts associated with eating, singing, or talking. 

Another aspect that many people associate drug use with is the neurotransmitter dopamine (which is produced by almost all drugs). While many believe that dopamine is the reason for this euphoric high, it’s actually more to blame for our repeated use of drugs. This release of dopamine actually reinforces the need to keep using a certain drug. 

Dopamine and Its Effects

Feelings of pleasure that you experience from acts like sex and eating usually reinforce certain behaviors. Over time, our mind automatically tries to repeat these pleasurable activities and will increase the odds of repeating them. When you experience something pleasurable, a surge of dopamine signals that that action should be remembered. This creates a neural connection that can make it easier to repeat that activity. 

Sometimes you may not even be aware of the connection that has been formed. This connection is what can lead to forming certain habits (in this case, drug use). Drugs can create a strong euphoria and also causes a large surge of dopamine. This reinforces the connection between the pleasure, the consumption of the drug, and other pieces of the experience. This strong surge of dopamine will make your brain favor using drugs over other healthier activities.

Certain elements and cues of a person’s environment can become associated with drug use. Whenever a person is exposed to these cues or triggers, they may experience uncontrollable cravings to use the drug. This can occur even if the drug is nowhere in the environment. This specific reflex can last for many years (even if the person hasn’t been using drugs for that long. 

An example of this would be someone who’s been clean of drugs, revisiting an old using spot or old neighborhood. They may still experience these intense cravings even after years of being completely clean.

What Makes Drugs more Addictive than Natural Rewards?

It comes as no surprise that drug use is disruptively addictive in many cases, but why is that? The difference between natural rewards like sex or eating is the rate at which drugs produce neurotransmitters. When a person misuses drugs the brain produces fewer neurotransmitters in the reward circuit. This severely reduces the rewarding effects of natural, safer activities. 

This is why, over time, a person may begin to feel unmotivated, depressed, and lifeless after misusing drugs for long periods of time. The person is not able to experience the pleasure they once did with other natural activities. It requires a person to take more of a drug to experience a normal level of reward. This creates a vicious circle of constant drug use to feel any kind of pleasure or reward. 

Over time, a person will begin to build a tolerance to their drug habits. This means that they must take more and more of a drug to feel its effects. This tolerance can be potentially dangerous when dealing with drugs like cocaine, alcohol, and heroin. Overdose, injury, and death are all prone when tolerance is involved. 

Getting Drug Addiction Treatment

The effects of drugs on the brain can cause a multitude of issues down the line and it’s important to get treatment before it’s too late. Drug addiction can ruin many aspects of your life, not just the hobbies you used to enjoy. Financial, relationship, social, work, and school troubles are all prone when misusing drugs. 

Luckily, Coastal is here to provide you with comprehensive drug addiction treatment. We understand that it’s more than just how drugs affect the brain but what it can do to your entire life. Health complications like diseases and overdosing are all likely as a person continues misusing drugs. 

The longer you wait, the more space you are opening up for worse problems down the line. This is why you need professional help like Coastal Detox. There is no shame in asking for help and you are not alone in your struggles. Let us help you towards a brighter and happier life for you and your loved ones. 

Recognizing Drug Abuse

One of the most important steps is recognizing drug use in a loved one or friend. This way, you can seek to get proper help and aid them in their recovery process. There is no set of signs that can be applied to every single drug but there are a few common red flags that many drugs share. Each case is different but being unaware or uninformed about drug symptoms can cost a life. Common signs of drug addiction include some of the following:

If you notice any of these symptoms it may be time to get help. Coastal detox offers a number of treatment options like detoxification, CBT, DBT, and other therapy options with you in mind. 

Get Help Today 

If you notice that a loved one or friend is struggling with drug addiction, Coastal Detox is here to help. Now that you understand how drugs affect the brain, it is more important than ever to act. Do not wait for the health effects and addiction to worsen. Contact us today to learn more about our treatment options and addiction resources.

Real Client Testimonials

  • Before coming to coastal I was hopeless, helpless, and my family wanted nothing to do with me. It wasn’t the first detox I’d ever been to, but it was the only one who showed me so much love and compassion. They gave me hope. It’s hard to put into words the amount of gratitude I have for this facility. The employees were my family when I had none. The staff went out of their way to make sure not only were my physical needs taken care of, but my emotional needs as well. From the first phone call prior to admission, to helping me set up continuing care, they never missed a beat. Even going as far as to help me with my legal issues via Zoom court. This isn’t just a detox, they are the family I never had. All of the techs, especially Karen, are phenomenal. They will take the time to listen to you, laugh, and cry(if needed) with you. If you are reading this and you or your loved one is suffering like I was, go to Coastal Detox. The level of care is more than I could ever put into a review. It wasn’t the first detox I’d been to, but it has been my last; I owe them everything I have today, including my life.

    Travis B. Avatar
    Travis B.
    12/07/2020
  • Had a really good experience at Coastal. The staff really went above and beyond in helping me get in and gave me the respect l, space and care I needed after I first got there. As I started to fell better they encouraged me to take part in groups which helped get me out of my head and bring positivity and health to my thinking. They had a great massage therapist, who came daily and it was evident the nursing staff genuinely cared. Got to know some of the staff as well and I’m grateful for the cooks Joe and Chris. Those guys literally made us sirloins and pork chops for dinner. Also I gotta thank Chris and Chris for helping me get in and setting me up with a transition plan. Real grateful for that help, I’m not sure if it’s management intention to hire guys named Chris but they got a good thing going there. Overall, I’m clean and sober today and walking it out. Coastal gave me a base that set me up for the success that I’m walking in today

    Brandon B. Avatar
    Brandon B.
    1/16/2020
  • My family is very thankful for Coastal Detox. They have went above and beyond for my son a few times. Unfortunately he has needed their help more than once and they have ever turned their back on him, even when he was at his worst. Jeannie and Chris have been amazing and kept me informed through the entire process. They truly care about the addict and want to help them especially when it would be easy to give up on them. I had many detox facilities be rude and uncaring to me when I was searching for help for my son, but Coastal never did that to us. I don't know the names of all the team members that have helped my son but I know their are many and y'all are angels!! One day we will be able to pay it forward and help someone as you have helped us. Thank you for all you do!!

    Brenda A. Avatar
    Brenda A.
    1/01/2020
  • Can not say enough nice things about Coastal Detox & staff. Family member was there, told me five stars for the facility & all whom she interacted with. Said the facilities, ambience..., cleanliness, grounds, food, (think their chef is five stars), were all top shelf. All I interacted with personally & on the phone were patient, professional, responsive & caring. Kudos to so many: Jeannie Jones, Clinical Director whom I spent the most face to face time with: great oversight, patience & follow thru. Raquel Barker, Therapist was so understanding & on spot with her assessments/care. Kris Garrigus Admissions Director, another Coastal professional whom I cannot say enough nice things about, always so patient & responsive to my probably too frequent inquires. Not to be forgotten is Judy Tucker, Director of Operations she too so patiently "put up with me"
    I highly recommend Coastal Detox

    Susan C. Avatar
    Susan C.
    11/13/2019
  • Can not say enough nice things about Coastal Detox & staff. Family member was there, told me five stars for the facility & all whom she interacted with. Said the facilities, ambience..., cleanliness, grounds, food, (think their chef is five stars), were all top shelf. All I interacted with personally & on the phone were patient, professional, responsive & caring. Kudos to so many: Jeannie Jones, Clinical Director whom I spent the most face to face time with: great oversight, patience & follow thru. Raquel Barker, Therapist was so understanding & on spot with her assessments/care. Kris Garrigus Admissions Director, another Coastal professional whom I cannot say enough nice things about, always so patient & responsive to my probably too frequent inquires. Not to be forgotten is Judy Tucker, Director of Operations she too so patiently "put up with me"
    I highly recommend Coastal Detox

    Susan C. Avatar
    Susan C.
    11/06/2019

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