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What Drugs Can do to Your Brain

By September 6, 2017No Comments

brain-and-drugs

Undoubtedly, the brain is the most complex organ in the human body. You rely on it to eat, sleep, breathe, read, drive, listen, draw and so on. In short, the human brain regulates the body’s basic functions; shape your thoughts, feelings and behaviour.

Your brain is not one big part, it is made up of many parts that work altogether as a team to create the overall function of the brain. All the different parts of the brain are responsible for coordinating and fulling specific functions.

When drugs are taken, it can alter the important brain areas that are necessary for life-sustaining functions. Drugs also trigger the area of the brain that marks addiction.

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Areas of the brain that are affected by drug abuse

The brain stem

This controls the basic function which are critical to life, such as your heart rate, breathing and sleeping.

The cerebral cortex

The cerebral cortex is divided into areas that control specific functions. The different areas o this part of the brain process information from our senses, which enable us to see, feel, hear, taste. The front part of the cortex, known as the frontal cortex or forebrain, is the thinking centre of the brain; powering our ability to think, plan, make decisions and solve problems.

The limbic system

This section contains the brain’s ‘reward’ circuit. It links a number of brain structures that regulate and control one’s ability to feel pleasure. The feelings of pleasure encourage us to repeat the behaviours that led us there and generally motivate us to repeat behaviours that are critical to our existence. The limbic system is stimulated by activities such as socialising and eating – but also by the use of drugs and the abuse of them.

Furthermore, this part of the brain is in charge of our perception of other emotions, positive and negative body language alike, which in turn explains the mood-altering properties of many drugs.

For information on how the brain works click here.

How do drugs work on the brain?

Since drugs are chemicals, they affect the brain by tapping into the communication system and interfering with the way that neurons (message sender ad receiver) usually function in processing information.

Some drugs, marijuana and heroin for example, have the ability to activate neurons because their chemical structure actually mimics that of a natural neurotransmitter. Likewise, the structure is able to ‘trick’ receptors, which allows the drugs to attach onto the and activate the neurons.

Although drugs like marijuana and heroin mimic the brain’s own chemicals, they don’t activate neurons in the same way as the brain’s natural neurotransmitter. Instead, they feed abnormal messages through the network of the brain.

Other drugs, such as cocaine, cause the neurons to release unusually large amounts of natural neurotransmitter or prevent the normal recycling of these brain chemicals. Therefore, they disrupt the communication channels by producing a greatly amplified message.

How do drugs affect the pleasure part of the brain?

Drugs of abuse mostly target the brain’s reward system, either indirectly or directly, by flooding the circuit with a chemical called dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter which is found in regions of the brain which regulate movement, emotion, motivation and feelings of pleasure. This system rewards out natural behaviours to encourage them to be repeated, when activated at normal levels that is.

However, the overstimulation of the system with the abuse of drugs produces euphoric effects, which again reinforce the use of drugs as a good behaviour – promoting addiction and the repeat of the action. Our brains are naturally wired to repeat activities associated with life-sustainability that the brain has found pleasurable. If the reward circuit is activated, the brain notes that it must remember and teach us to do it again and again without thinking about it, since it must be something important. Since drugs of abuse stimulate this circuit in the same way, the brain learns to repeat the action of taking drugs in the same way.

Long-term effects of drug abuse on the brain.

It is known that the development of tolerance in the brain can eventually lead to profound changes in neurons and brain circuits, perhaps even severely compromising the long-term health of your brain. Glutamate, for example, is neurotransmitter that has influence over the reward circuit and the ability to learn. When the concentration of glutamate is changed by drug use, the brain attempts to compensate for this change, which can result in the impairment of cognitive function. Likewise, frequent use of drugs can trigger adaptations in your habits or non-conscious memory systems. ‘Conditioning’ is a perfect example of this type of learning, in which certain things or actions in a one’s daily life or environment become associated with the drug use and can trigger uncontrollable cravings whenever the person is exposed to these things. This is affect a person who once used drugs even after many years of abstinence.

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