How Drugs Affect Neurotransmitters
Drugs are powerful and can make permanent changes in your brain. Learn the role neurotransmitters play in the process.
How Does The Brain Work?
The brain is an amazing organ. It’s only three pounds and yet it makes everything around us possible. Your brain is what allows you to find love, cook a great meal and sit down and enjoy it with someone you love.
Human brains are rather like computers. That’s because they are complicated organs that can learn, grow and respond to stimuli around them. The brain is composed of billions of cells known as neurons.
Neurons are the parts of the body that allow for the flow of information from one part of your body to the brain and to other parts of the body. Neurons are one of the largest cells in the body. They have gaps. In order to send information between each gap and the cells in the brain, the brain makes use of neurotransmitters. These are chemicals that convey information from one cell to the next.
How Do Drugs Work In The Brain?
Illicit substances such as heroin and cocaine literally interfere with your body’s neurons and how they function each day. They make it harder for your brain to send, receive, or process information from the brain’s neurons.
Certain drugs like marijuana and heroin have the ability to mimic your body’s natural neurotransmitters. These drugs will latch on to the neurons in the body and activate them. As they aren’t the right substance to do this process, the result can be a disruption in how the brain works. This can interfere with your body’s ability to receive and process information.
Other drugs like amphetamine and cocaine cause neurons to release a lot of natural neurotransmitters that you might not want to have at that time. They can also prevent your brain from recycling brain chemicals and interfere with their transporters. That may create problems when you try to access existing information in your brain and begin to learn new things.
What Parts Of The Brain Are Affected By Drug Use?
Using drugs is known to create problems with many parts of the brain.
Your basal ganglia gives you an opportunity to enjoy activities like eating and socializing. This is what is known as the brain’s brain’s reward circuit. That’s how you learn to do new things and function better. Drug use makes it harder for users to enjoy doing anything other than taking drugs.
The extended amygdala has a role in how you feel certain negative feelings like stress and anxiety. Using drugs can lead to increased sensitivity to these feelings and make it hard for you to function. They may bring the drug user to take the drugs to avoid such feelings instead of getting high.
The prefrontal cortex is one of the body’s most complex organs. This is where you can plan out your life and increase your ability to control your impulses. It’s also the part of the brain that takes the longest time to develop. Teens are still learning about the world around them and how they can harness it to their own benefit. Drug use interferers with the function of this part of the brain. That’s one of many reasons why teen drug can be even more dangerous than adults who use drugs.
How Drugs Affect Neurotransmitters
Many drugs make people feel euphoric. That’s because they produce a surge of neurotransmitters that convey pleasure from the brain to the body.
Stimulants and their effect on neurotransmitters
Certain drugs are known as stimulants. Stimulants increase the amount of a neurotransmitter known as dopamine that the brain produces. Cocaine is an example of a stimulant.
Depressants and their effect on neurotransmitters
Depressants are drugs used to inhibit the function of a part of the body known as the central nervous system or CNS. Depressants are widely used. Many depressants are legal substances. Alcohol falls in this category. A single drink or even a few more over time can be harmless. People may feel relaxed and less inhibited after they have a drink. Alcohol enhances the function of the body’s inhibitory neurotransmitters and decreases the function of the body’s excitatory neurotransmitters.
Opioids and their effect on neurotransmitters
Opioids inhibit the release of neurotransmitters. They can also cause the body to release certain types of neurotransmitters such as dopamine. When taken over a long period of time, opioids can lead to major changes in the brain’s chemistry. People who use opioids may develop a tolerance for these substances. That leads to the need for more and more in order to have the same feelings.
Psychedelics and their effect on neurotransmitters
Psychedelics are known to help with the release of certain neurotransmitters. This effect is particularly pronounced when it comes to the production of serotonin.
How Do Drugs Produce Pleasure?
Pleasure is something that everyone wants in life. People want to enjoy the world around them and what it has to offer. Drug users get pleasure from using drugs. This is known as the high. Scientists still aren’t sure how this process works.
What they think happens is there’s an urge for certain chemical signaling compounds in the brain. These can function like the body’s natural opioids or endorphins. In doing so, this activates neurotransmitters in regions of the basal ganglia.
As people take certain drugs, they may feel a surge of these neurotransmitters that is much greater than what the body produces naturally as people engage in activities such as eating and interacting with friends and family.
Scientists who study this subject closely are of the belief that dopamine production in the brain is about allowing the body to repeat activities that it finds pleasurable. This kind of reinforcement may act on the brain and lead to feelings of euphoria when people take these drugs.
How Does Dopamine Reinforce Drug Use?
Pleasure serves a purpose. The brain lets the body know when something feels good. That often means a person should do that again. The brain is actually wired to reinforce feelings of pleasure and convince us we should do things that feel good as often as we can.
A neurotransmitter known as dopamine plays a central role in this process. The brain has a reward center. This pleasure center is activated by doing many types of activities that are good for us such as taking showers and eating healthy food. It causes changes in the neural connectivity of the brain that can make it easier to engage in good habits.
Drugs that cause a surge in dopamine levels prod the brain to develop a habit of using such drugs. This can trigger cravings and make it harder for the user to do other, healthier activities. It’s a reflex that can happen even after the user has long stopped taking drugs. A user may walk past a store where they bought or used drugs in the past. The brain remembers what happened and reminds the user of the pleasure brought on by taking those drugs.
Why Are Drugs More Addictive Than Natural Rewards?
The brain responds to cues. One of the most powerful is the use of certain substances. Some substances are like a whisper you can barely hear. Other substances roar like a lion. Drugs have an effect on the brain that is like a radio that plays too loudly. People who use drugs can adjust to this radio by producing fewer neurotransmitters that make up the brain’s reward circuit.
They can also reduce the number of receptors in the brain that are able to receive signals. This means that the brain’s ability to get access to feelings of pleasure is also reduced.
The Long-Term Effects of Drug Use on Neurotransmitters
For people who have some form of substance abuse, the brain will adjust their drug use by producing lower-than-normal levels of neurotransmitters in the reward system in the brain. Drug users may also experience other effects as a result of long-term use of many types of illicit substances.
The use of drugs can have an impact on the receptors in the brain that receive signals from other parts of the body. The person may feel a sense of happiness when they first use drugs. However, over time the body’s neurotransmitters may be disrupted by the repeated use of such chemicals.
What happens for many people who use drugs over time is what is known as feeling flat. People who feel flat lack emotions or find it hard to produce emotions. They may also feel depressed. For those who are prone to depression or have already had episodes of depression in the past, the results can be hard to control and cope with. They may no longer take pleasure in activities that they once enjoyed doing in the past.
This can lead to a cycle of abuse that is hard to break free of without help.