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How Drugs Affect the Brain & Its Reward System

Effects of Long-term Drug Use on the Brain

While addiction can cause serious harm to your physical, mental, and financial health, it’s important to truly understand the damaging effects that prolonged drug use can have on your brain. The high you feel from certain drugs is only temporary, but the damage can be extensive and sometimes long-lasting. Studies have shown that long-term drug or alcohol use has severe and sometimes fatal neurological effects. The damage can be difficult to overcome, especially if they are allowed to persist. Banyan Treatment Center in Massachusetts is taking a closer look at how drugs affect the brain.

Is Addiction a Disease or a Choice?

Although people typically make the conscious choice to try a substance, people usually don’t use drugs or alcohol to become addicted on purpose. Drug addiction is considered a chronic brain disease as it causes users to compulsively seek out drugs despite being aware of the harmful effects.

Drug use disrupts the brain’s communication process, which means neurons are unable to send, receive, and process information correctly. It can also start to change your brain’s structure and chemistry, especially the reward system. These changes will not only make your body dependent on the drug over time but also reinforce your addiction, making it harder to stop using your drug of choice.

Dopamine is the neurotransmitter responsible for the “pleasure center” of your brain. Addictive drugs trigger the activation of this pleasure center, causing a user to seek the effects time and time again. Serotonin is the neurotransmitter that regulates mood and emotion and is another chemical affected by long-term drug use.

Other brain chemicals that can be adversely affected include gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which regulates stress and anxiety, and norepinephrine, which impacts focus and attention. Without the proper regulation of these chemicals, an addict is unable to respond properly to situations and emotions. The clear connection between the functions of the brain reward system and addiction is a real threat to those who choose to try these substances, even just once.

Additional Consequences of Mixing the Brain and Addiction

The effects of the brain on drugs may also include changes outside of the organ’s reward system. Long-term drug habits can cause problems in the prefrontal cortex. This area of the brain is responsible for higher-level thinking, problem-solving, planning, and decision-making. Young adults are especially at risk as this area of the brain is the last to be fully developed and is, therefore, more vulnerable.

Brain damage from drugs is an incredibly tragic but all too likely consequence of substance abuse. In the context of a wild social setting, what seems like an adventurous spirit can quickly escalate into a lifelong struggle. Sometimes the effects of drugs on the brain can be deadly. Opioids, for example, can interrupt your brain’s ability to perform necessary regulatory functions like breathing and pumping your heart.

Any willful ignorance surrounding these risks does nothing but postpone the inevitable. With some substances, all it takes is one try for the user’s neurological functions to turn on their heads. Before you try something that could cause you harm, don’t forget to ask yourself exactly how drugs affect the brain and if the risk is worth it. That being said, there is still time to heal the brain after drugs. It isn’t too late to turn your life around until it is.

The Brain and Drug Withdrawal Symptoms

Withdrawal symptoms are a set of physiological and psychological symptoms that occur when someone stops using a drug that they have become dependent on. Withdrawal occurs because the brain has adapted to the presence of the drug and has adjusted its chemistry and functioning accordingly. When the drug is no longer present, the brain struggles to restore normal functioning, which can result in a range of symptoms.

Withdrawal symptoms can vary depending on the drug used, the amount used, and the duration of use. Physical withdrawal symptoms can include headaches, nausea, vomiting, muscle aches, tremors, seizures, and insomnia. Psychological symptoms can include anxiety, depression, irritability, restlessness, and cravings.

The severity of withdrawal symptoms can also vary depending on the level of dependence. People who use drugs for longer periods and in larger quantities are more likely to experience severe withdrawal symptoms, which can make quitting even more challenging. In some cases, withdrawal can be life-threatening, particularly if the substance being used is a central nervous system depressant like alcohol or benzodiazepines.

The brain's response to withdrawal can also lead to a phenomenon known as "protracted withdrawal" or "post-acute withdrawal syndrome," which can last for weeks or even months after the last use of the substance. During this time, individuals may experience persistent symptoms such as anxiety, depression, sleep disturbances, and mood swings.

Overall, withdrawal symptoms can be a significant barrier to quitting drug use, as the experience can be physically and emotionally uncomfortable. That is why our Massachusetts addiction treatment center offers drug detox partnerships that can help you address your addiction, prevent relapse, and set you down the road to recovery.

Heal From the Effects of Drugs on the Brain

It’s important to educate yourself on how drugs affect the brain and understand that proper medical treatment is crucial to the damage control and recovery process. With many substances, the development of withdrawal symptoms will make it that much harder to resist using, further perpetuating the dangerous cycle.

Banyan is here to help you regain control over your life. Our drug rehab in Massachusetts offers a variety of care levels that will ensure each patient gets the most effective treatment possible for their unique addiction. With our partial hospitalization program (PHP), intensive outpatient, and other options, clients will be able to move through the recovery process gradually.

Our facilities treat a variety of different addictions, and adults from all walks of life can find the program they need to succeed. Our team of clinical professionals is waiting to help you take the steps necessary to turn your life around for the better.

Contact us today at 888-280-4763 for Massachusetts drug addiction help that is catered to you, no matter how long you may have been using. We can help!

Related Reading:

How Alcohol Affects the Brain

How MDMA Affects the Brain

Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa is the National Director of Digital Marketing and is responsible for a multitude of integrated campaigns and events in the behavioral health and addictions field. All articles have been written by Alyssa and medically reviewed by our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Darrin Mangiacarne.