How Drugs Alter The Brain
“Say No To Drugs” is the most popular motto of campaigns aimed at spreading awareness about drug abuse. However, behind this simple statement is a whole story of the life-altering impact drugs can have on a person’s life. Saying “No” is the right thing to do, but why do you need to say “No”? This is not just an opinion; it has been scientifically proven that drug abuse can have irreversible consequences on one’s health. This assumes even greater significance if you consider how the brain is affected by constant drug abuse.
You may have noticed that we’re using the term “drug abuse” and not just “drugs”. This is because not every medically defined “drug” is harmful, if used as intended. However, some types of drugs — such as marijuana, methamphetamine, heroin and cocaine — produce adverse effects even in small quantities. And when someone starts abusing drugs by consuming them in large doses on a regular basis, these chemicals have truly dangerous effects.
At the most basic level, drugs affect the brain by interfering with the natural flow of neurons. This leads to abnormal messages being transmitted through the network. Certain drugs can set off the neurons so that they send a large amount of neural transmitters, which can disrupt the production of essential chemicals in the brain.
Drugs can also interfere with the brain’s reward system. Normally, the brain rewards certain activities by releasing dopamine, a neurotransmitter that produces a feeling of pleasure. When it is activated naturally, you feel euphoric after achieving something desirable. But drugs cause a large amount of dopamine to be released unnaturally, resulting in what is known as a “high”.
Certain drugs can release 2 to 10 times the amount of dopamine that natural rewards such as eating do. (Source). The release of excess dopamine is not good. It causes the brain to remember the action which triggered the release and encourages the person to repeat that action. This is why a drug user finds it so difficult to stop being addicted. Our brains are naturally wired to encourage actions that cause happiness, or rather, cause a dopamine release. Hence the drug user quickly becomes a drug addict and starts taking more and more of the drug, thereby leading to drug abuse.
Slowly, in the long term, the addict finds it hard to experience pleasure normally, because the brain no longer produces dopamine at normal levels, unless provoked by more usage of the drug. This is why addicts are often uninterested in other activities and are constantly thinking of their next high. Eventually, they may stop making logical decisions and start acting compulsively, making poor life choices and negatively affecting the people around them.
Long term usage of drugs can lead to:
• Poor decision making
• Decreased reflex action
• Decreased ability to learn new things
• Uncontrollable cravings
• Abusive behaviour
• Chronic depression
Fortunately, it is possible to treat drug addiction. There are various methods that one could follow for de-addiction:
• Talk to your family about this issue and seek their support.
• Avoid people who use drugs. Make new friends who are non-judgemental and will appreciate you without forcing you to take drugs.
• Focus on other activities that you enjoy; it could be reading, writing, playing games or watching movies.
• Attend group therapy sessions or seek professional counselling.
• Approach a rehab centre.
Rehabilitation clinics help addicts overcome their addiction, although there is a high risk of the person reverting to the habit, if not monitored carefully. It would be ideal if one does not step into the vicious downward spiral of drug abuse in the first place. Not only will your brain thank you for it, but you will also experience natural exhilaration throughout your life.