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Drug Addiction and the Brain

The science behind drug addictions is complex, as drug addiction affects our body’s most complicated organ – the brain. Weighing in at approximately three pounds, the human brain is responsible for allowing us to do life’s everyday tasks; this includes breathing, eating, playing a sport, or driving a car. Not only is the brain involved in tasks, it also controls our thoughts, emotions and feelings. With that being said, it is not surprising that the brain is affected by continued drug use.  

Drugs affect our brains in several different ways. Drug use interferes with our brain’s ability to send and receive signals via neurotransmitters. There are several parts of the brain that are affected by drug use. This includes the basal ganglia, the extended amygdala, and the prefrontal cortex.  

The basal ganglia is the section of the brain that is involved in feelings of pleasure and rewards. For example, the pleasures of eating, or socializing with friends are connected to the basal ganglia. Therefore, extended drug use activates these feelings of pleasure (the reward circuit), producing the “high” that many users experience from drug use.  

The extended amygdala plays a role in our feelings of anxiety and irritability. Once the drug wears off, the user may feel feelings of discomfort and withdrawal. To reverse this, the user will continue using drugs just to feel “normal” even if they aren’t feeling that “high” that they once experienced.  

The prefrontal cortex is the section of our brain that allows us to problem solve, make decisions, and exercise impulse control. As the user continues to take drugs, it will be increasingly hard for them to stop, due to impulse control issues connected to the prefrontal cortex. Even if you have never used drugs, all of us can relate to impulse control issues. Think of how addictive certain foods and snacks are! There has been significant research that does show that certain foods and snacks are essentially as addictive as some drugs.  

Combined with producing euphoria, continued drug use also results in an increased production of dopamine. These large “surges” of dopamine tell the brain that the user must continue using drugs to feel pleasurable feelings.  

Drug addiction negatively impacts our brains, and it can result in many health issues, too. Continued drug use can lead to heart disease, stroke, cancer, and ultimately an early or sudden death. Therefore, the sooner the user receives treatment, the sooner they will be able to avoid these potentially deadly health risks.  

The human body is certainly fascinating. Our brains, although they are a very small part of our body in terms of size, control everything we do. It is important to recognize that drug addiction can permanently affect our brains, resulting in a decreased quality of life – and even death. While a user may feel the “high” initially, these feelings of pleasure will be harder and more difficult to achieve with prolonged drug use. The user will need to continue using more of the drugs just to feel “normal”.  

Victory Recovery Partners is a network of five addiction and recovery centers on Long Island, New York. We specialize in treating all types of drug addictions, such as heroin, cocaine, and alcohol addictions. Our organization is unique, in that we offer total treatment under one roof; this includes behavioral health, psychiatric, wellness, and medication-assisted treatment. If you or someone you know is struggling with an addiction, we would like to help. Please visit our website, to learn more.  

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