How Drugs Work in the Brain

The brain is the most complex organ in the body. It is the core centre of life and all human activity. You need it to see, to smell, to breathe, walk, write, laugh and enjoy life’s activities. The brains is responsible for regulating all the basic functions of the body as well as, understand and respond to everything you experience which includes behaviours, thoughts and emotions.

In short, the brain is sectioned into different parts which work together at one point or another. Some of these areas are responsible for memory. Other parts coordinate your senses. In the case of drug addictions, the brain and all of its individual sections can become impaired. This can ultimately lead to debilitating brain functioning while driving the actual force of the compulsive need to drink or use. Whether you or someone you care about has an addiction, it’s important to educate yourself on the basics of the brain and how it is affected by drug or alcohol abuse. By doing so, you can begin to understand how a person develops an addiction which can be extremely hard to break.

How Drugs Work in the Brain

Drugs, whether alcohol, prescription medications or illegal substances, are all chemicals which affect the brain by interfering with communication signals and inhibit the way neurons send, receive and process information. Certain drugs like heroin activate these neurons because their own chemical makeup copies the natural makeup of a neurotransmitter. As a result, the drug tricks these receptors into allowing it to be activated. Even though these drugs are similar to the very chemicals in the brain, they do not activate the neurons in the same way.

The Prominent Release of Dopamine

All drugs, from sugar and caffeine to heroin and alcohol, cause a surge of dopamine in the brain. This chemical is a neurotransmitter responsible for movement, emotion, motivation and feelings of pleasure. Everyone produces dopamine; however, drugs over stimulate the chemical leading to euphoric like effects. Ongoing research suggests that this rapid release of dopamine can be linked to a reason for abuse. The user becomes dependent on the intensity of the release along with the knowingness and reliability of getting it.

Naturally, rewards come from time and effort. For example, if you happen to complete a marathon, you may feel ecstatic and proud. These feelings are a result of the brain producing dopamine and other ‘feel good’ chemicals. Whereas drugs or addictive behaviours act as a cheat or shortcut by flooding the brain with these feel good chemicals in a rapid amount of time. Drugs can cause the release of between 2 and 10 times the amount of dopamine than the brain naturally does.

It’s widely accepted that different routes of drug administration can influence the likelihood of an addiction. For example, injecting heroin can be more addictive than snorting it. Likewise, injecting or snorting a prescription tablet can be more addicting than taking it orally. The reason being is that the quicker a drug enters the bloodstream, the faster the effects become. As a result, a speedier, stronger release of dopamine is felt.

A Tolerance Develops

Becoming overwhelmed with the onslaught of chemicals, the brain responds by producing less dopamine or eliminating the receptors all together. With time, the brain begins to adapt to the drug of choice and dopamine has less impact on the pleasure centre. As a result, the individual will not feel the euphoric like effects with the same amount of the drug.  They will need to take more of it to get the same high. This is known as 'tolerance'.

From Tolerance to the Compulsive Desire for More

Once a tolerance has developed, compulsion or the urge to use can take over. When a person is not high, the memory of the effect and the need to obtain it can linger. These memories are a result of the hippocampus and amygdale associating memories and environmental “cues” to be related with using the drug. With all this going on in the brain, the individual will experience cravings. In the case of a person who is in recovery, these areas of the brain can continue to trigger various memories of using. This conditioned learning may explain why a person may relapse after seeing an object they associate with using.

Revolutionising the Way Drug Addiction is Treated

There is an immense amount of peer reviewed research on addiction and how it affects the brain. However, there are still a lot of unanswered questions and things that are not fully understood.  Thus far, researchers have done an immaculate job at busting powerful myths and misconceptions regarding addiction. No longer are people with addictions thought to be “morally flawed” which, in the past, lead to punishment, but rather they are seen as having a health problem which can be treated. As the research continues to flourish, we can see that addiction has a profound effect on the brain and behaviour. Coupled with biological, social and environmental factors, addiction can become compulsive and lead to a dramatic progression of the disorder. With this in hand, researchers, doctors, addiction specialists and rehab centres can begin to develop effective prevention measures as well as treatment approaches.

When it comes to addiction treatment, what has become more apparent over the last 10-15 years is the need to treat the whole person, rather than only the symptoms. This has inspired integrated 12 step programmes with a variety of therapies which are able to tackle the mind, body and spirit.

About Siam Rehab Thailand

Our leading drug and alcohol treatment centre in Chiang Rai, Thailand maintains an impeccable effort to stay fully up to date with the latest and ongoing research to ensure each and every patient receives effective, results proven care. If you would like to know more about our private rehab centre, please contact Siam Rehab today.