Substance Abuse and its effects on Brain – a Brief Account

It is the sense of superficial pleasure that lures people into substance abuse. It all starts from the brain and hence, it is not worth mentioning that drug addiction takes a toll on the human brain before any other organ of the body. In other words, the brain is the organ to be heavily affected by drug addiction. Before we discuss the effects of drug addiction on the brain, let us know the structure of the human brain.

Structure of the Human Brain

The human brain is considered the most complex existing object on this planet. A normal human brain weighs 3 pounds and is made up of gray and white matters that are the hub of every activity that we perform. It is the brain that controls the fundamental functions of the body. The brain also interprets and responds to virtually everything that we experience, hear, see, feel and smell. It also governs the basic shapes of moment-to-moment behavior. In other words, the brain IS what an individual is known to be. It is the true identity of an individual.

How does the brain work?

The brain is often compared with an unfathomably complex and sensitive computer, which works with the help of billions of neurons instead of silicon chips and electronic circuits. These neurons form an intricate network of nerves, which forms the hub of the central nervous system of a human body.

Each of these neurons functions as a switch, which controls the transmission of impulse and information various parts of the body into the brain. When a neuron receives signals from its corresponding neurons, it transmits signals in the form of impulses to other neurons of the circuit, which again transmit the signal to subsequent neurons, thereby completing the flow of impulse.

Now speaking of the circuits, there are multiple sets of these circuits, which coordinate with each other, forming a team. Now each circuit set of that team has specific functions to perform.  Again, they also coordinate with each other forming the backbone of the peripheral nervous system.

What happens when drugs are consumed?

What we have discussed so far is the normal setup and the functioning of the brain. Now the question is what happens when one takes drugs? What does the drug do to the brain and its functioning pattern?

When an addictive drug is consumed, it acts on the central as well as the peripheral nervous system. It does so by interfering with the normal functioning of the neurons. Sending of signals or impulses by neurons is jeopardized. The drug interferes with the manner in which the neurons send and receive impulses via the neurotransmitter and process them.

Certain drugs like heroin and marijuana are capable of hyper activating neurons, as their chemical structure imitates the role of the neurotransmitter, sending false signals to the neurons, making them hyper-activated. Naturally, wrong and abnormal impulses or chemical messages are sent to the brain through the neurons, resulting in abnormal activities and hallucinations.

Some other drugs, such as cocaine and amphetamine, on the other hand, misguides the neurons to release a very high proportion of natural neurotransmitters or thwart the normal recycling of brain chemicals by capturing the control of the neurotransmitters. This again, either amplifies or interrupts the normal communication of the neurons, thereby affecting the nervous system in a significant way.

Which portions of the human brain are affected by substance abuse?

Drugs affect crucial parts of the human brain that play a pivotal role in carrying out crucial life-sustaining activities. The areas of the brain that are directly or indirectly affected by substance abuse include:

  • The Basal Ganglia, which is responsible for imbibing the sense of positivity and motivation, including having food, socializing, having sex and performing erotic activities, and other healthy activities.
  • The Extended Amygdala, which is responsible for imbibing strain and strains, anxiety, unease, discomfort, irritability, sense of anger and disgust and so on.

The prefrontal cortex imbibes the ability of thinking, planning, resolving problems, making decisions and exerting self-control over impulses. This is the last potion to the brain to mature with age. This means the teens are most vulnerable to drug abuse.

Then there are some other drugs such as opioids that affect other portions of the brain. These may include the brain stem that navigates the basic functionalities of life, like heart rate, respiration, and sleeping. This explains why an overdose of opioids can lead to respiratory problems and even death.

Hence, you see, when an individual gets addicted to drugs, this may lead to so many complications involving so many parameters of the brain. Naturally, this can only be addressed and resolved by a qualified and experienced medical practitioner of a reputed drug rehab center.

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