How Drug Addiction Affects the Brain

Drugs of abuse, including alcohol and nicotine, work because they change the brain’s chemistry—they cause dopamine, a neurotransmitter involved in the reward circuit, to release more frequently than usual. In addition to it being addictive, it also affects your attention span and executive functioning, such as planning and decision making. It’s difficult to break free from the grip of addiction—it can be as dark as it is powerful and devious in its nature. If you or someone you know has been struggling with drug addiction, knowing what kind of effect it has on the brain will help to better understand the path towards recovery. This article will explain how drug addiction affects your brain and why this is an important tool for recovery.

How Drug Addiction Affects The Brain

Craving. A common experience among people who have been addicted to drugs is the constant craving to use the drug. This is one of the reasons drug users don’t stop using even when they realize the negative effects of drugs on them. Drug addiction causes changes in your brain’s chemistry which results in a continuous desire to use drugs. Scientists have identified three neurotransmitters involved in substance abuse: dopamine, glutamate, and GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid). Dopamine is the neurotransmitter that controls your feelings. It’s part of the reward circuit, which is also referred to as the “pleasure” system. Researchers have found that cocaine increases dopamine release in the brain, similar to how it affects you when you eat chocolate. Glutamate and GABA are other chemicals that affect your brain. When cocaine is used, these chemicals are released more often than usual. Since they are responsible for sending signals between nerve cells and changing the brain’s chemistry, the more these chemicals are released, the more of a craving you will feel to use cocaine. Sleep Deprivation. If you’re not getting enough sleep, it’s going to affect your brain chemistry by altering levels of dopamine, glutamate, and GABA—the chemicals that control pleasure and addiction.

It has also been found that long-term drug abuse contributes to a lack of sleep, and this affects your memory and reasoning abilities. Blunted Emotions. According to research, repeated use of cocaine and other drugs can cause people to experience a reduced ability to feel pleasure and happiness. Your dopamine and glutamate levels are impaired when you abuse drugs, which is why you might feel flat emotionally. The same goes for your working memory, too—you might also experience difficulty with simple mental tasks such as remembering directions or following conversation threads. Learning Problems. If you’re using drugs to get high, you’re likely not getting enough sleep as well.

This is also going to affect your ability to pay attention, think and learn efficiently. One study showed that after self-reported cocaine use for six hours a day for a period of four weeks, the following cognitive function tests were lower than normal: working memory, verbal memory as well as visual-spatial organization. Memory Problems. Among people with cocaine addiction, there’s a decreased ability to remember information, and this can also come along with reduced working memory and executive functioning. In other words, you won’t be able to do things as fast or effectively as the average person in your state of recovery (or in general). Namely, you’ll be more likely to forget where you put your keys or that you have homework if you didn’t pay enough attention to it during the day. Poor Decision Making.

As described earlier, drug addiction can cause the release of glutamate and GABA in your brain. They are involved with making a decision, so the more of them that are released, the more likely you’ll be to make an impulsive choice without thinking it through thoroughly. Both glutamate and GABA affect your working memory and executive functioning—they work together as one unit to guide your thinking and decision-making skills. These chemicals have an effect on you after a person has abused drugs for some time. Aggression. According to research, drug users are more likely to be involved in violent crimes such as assaults, homicides, and armed robbery.

Their decision-making skills are affected by drug use, and they’re also more likely to be violent because they have less control over their emotions. They don’t have the ability to think things through logically and rationally because of changes in the brain’s chemistry after drug abuse. This is a common side-effect that can make you much more dangerous than before you stopped using drugs. In conclusion, drug addiction affects the brain in a number of ways, including addiction, altered dopamine levels and neurotransmitters, altered sleep patterns, poor attention span, memory and reasoning problems, uncontrolled aggression, and poor decision-making. You can’t just stop using drugs once you start—you need to be prepared for what is about to happen to you. The key to recovery is undergoing rehabilitation first so that the changes in your brain can be reversed with treatment. If you need to talk to a professional, our counselors are available 24 hours a day at 833-497-3812.