Published on May 15, 2024

The Impact That Drugs Have on Your Brain’s Psychology

When it comes to psychology, there are few topics that are as pertinent and complex as substance abuse and its effects on the brain. The allure of drugs can promise euphoria and an escape for many, but the reality is far from fun or glamourous. From altering neurotransmitter levels to triggering psychotic episodes and ongoing mental health issues, the impact of drug use on the brain is profound and often irreversible. This is something that many people who experiment with drugs dont realise, and even taking ‘less’ harmful drugs, even once can have a lifelong impact on the brain. 

How do Drugs Work?

The detrimental effects of drug use lies in the intricate workings of the brain’s reward system. All of our brains are hardwired to seek pleasure and avoid pain, which is a mechanism that’s crucial for survival. However, drugs hijack this system, flooding the brain with neurotransmitters like dopamine which are responsible for feelings of pleasure and reward. This flood of dopamine creates an artificial high, reinforcing the desire to use drugs repeatedly to recreate that sensation.But as the brain adapts to this artificial surge of neurotransmitters, it undergoes significant changes. With prolonged drug use, the brain’s reward circuitry becomes desensitised, needing higher doses of drugs to achieve the same high (a phenomenon known as tolerance). Meanwhile, other brain regions like the prefrontal cortex responsible for decision making and impulse control become impaired, leading to impulsive behaviour and poor judgement.

Psychological Consequences of Using Drugs

One of the most alarming consequences of drug use is the potential development of psychosis. Drugs like methamphetamine, cocaine and LSD can all induce hallucinations, delusions, and paranoia. These are short term symptoms characteristic of psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia but in some can persist. These substances disrupt the delicate balance of neurotransmitters in the brain, particularly dopamine and serotonin, which play crucial roles in perception and mood regulation. Using these drugs can tip the scales, pushing vulnerable individuals into a state of psychosis that persist long after the drug’s effects wear off.

Other Potential Risks

The impact of drug use extends far beyond the short term effects of intoxication high. Substance abuse can lead to other long lasting changes in brain structure and function too, paving the way for a whole host of mental health disorders. Depression, anxiety and PTSD are just a few examples of conditions that can arise or worsen as a result of drug abuse. The brain’s delicate equilibrium is disrupted, leaving individuals vulnerable to a cycle of addiction and psychiatric illness. The rewiring of the brain induced by drug use is not limited to chemical alterations but also involves structural changes as well. Chronic drug use can lead to neuroplasticity (this is the brain’s ability to reorganise itself by forming new neural connections), and while neuroplasticity is essential for learning and memory, it can also perpetuate addiction by reinforcing drug seeking behaviour. The brain becomes wired to prioritise drug use over other activities essential for survival, like eating and socialising.

The Social Impacts

The consequences of drug use also go beyond the individual and usually affect their social and familial relationships eventually too. Substance abuse can strain relationships leading to conflict, mistrust and isolation. The emotional and financial toll of addiction can tear families apart, leaving a trail of broken relationships and shattered lives in its wake. This can lead to further drug taking and more of the vicious cycle of addiction.

The Road to Recovery

The road to recovery from drug addiction is full of challenges, but it’s not impossible- people can and do recover. Behavioural therapies, medication assisted treatment, and support networks play crucial roles in helping people break free from the grip of addiction and reclaim their lives. If you or a loved one are suffering and want get your life back, search ‘rehab centers near me’ or speak to your GP to get the ball rolling. 

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