Effects of Excessive Drug Use on the Brain

March 4, 2022

Although it can be difficult for some to recognize the impact excessive drug use is having on their lives, most individuals can identify these issues and see where recovery and improvement are needed. 

The effects of excessive drug use on our life are commonly seen in our appearance, relationships, work performance, or the way we take care of responsibilities. What some may fail to consider is how excessive drug use affects the brain, and not just in a psychological way, but physically. We may not be able to see these physical changes on any given day, but there are certain signs and symptoms to be on the lookout for when determining how your drug use is affecting your brain.

Basic Facts About Drug Use

Before diving into the effects excessive drug use has on the brain, let’s revisit some facts about drug use. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) defines addiction as a “chronic, relapsing disorder characterized by compulsive drug seeking, continued use despite harmful consequences, and long-lasting changes in the brain.” Addiction or substance use disorder (SUD) is not only a severely dangerous, chronic mental illness, but it’s a complex brain disorder that when untreated wreaks havoc on our mental and physical well-being.

The main effect that makes drug use so desirable for many is the pleasure it produces. If you continue reading NIDA’s article linked above, you’ll come to learn that some, if not most drugs, target the brain’s “reward system,” and flood it with dopamine, our brain’s pleasure chemical. This overstimulation of dopamine becomes a highly desirable effect that people begin to crave more, and the more the body grows accustomed, the more they have to use substances to feel the desired effects.

What Causes Substance Use Disorder?

There is no one cause for developing SUD. Not everyone who uses drugs becomes addicted because our bodies and brains are all different and react differently to substance use. Despite the lack of a root cause of addiction, some factors put people at an increased risk. Some of these factors include:

  • Your biological makeup and how your body reacts to drug use

  • Co-occurring mental disorders that you may be experiencing, such as anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder 

  • Environmental factors like the people you hang around with or the presence of substance use in your home life

  • The inability to healthily cope with past traumas in a way that leads you to drug use as a coping technique

All these factors can lead to the development of SUD and, if untreated, can lead to several adverse effects on your brain and well-being. 

What Drug Use Is Doing to Your Brain

In addition to knowing the detrimental effects drug use can have on your life, understanding the way it’s affecting your brain is important for long-term health and motivation to seek treatment. 

In their publication on the science behind drugs and the brain, the NIDA discusses the dangers of drug use on our brains. In particular, drugs disrupt the ways our neurons communicate with each other, causing neurotransmitters to be activated abnormally. One of the dangers is the way drug use affects the parts of our brain that help us to function daily. Without getting too technical, drug use affects the parts of our brain that motivate us to make healthy choices, manage stress, and control our rational or cognitive functions.

Studies have been able to show these changes in the brain. Brain imaging from individuals suffering from SUD indicates changes in the areas of the brains mentioned. For example, they were able to see a physical change in the parts of the brain responsible for our judgment and critical thinking or behavioral control. This physical change causes an almost adverse effect that rewires our decisions, actions, and even parts of who we are. However, with treatment, you can finally live a life free of active addiction and slowly return to the person you once were.

Seeking Treatment for Drug Addiction

Not only are millions of Americans suffering from SUD, but overdose rates have skyrocketed over the past few decades, tripling to astronomically high numbers. The right treatment for you is dependent on the severity of your disorder, how long you’ve been suffering, and the drugs being used. Treatment may include counseling, medication, or a combination of both. While attending therapy will help you understand the root cause of your addiction and learn the tools needed to deal with them and avoid substance use, medication can help with the withdrawal symptoms.

At The Ohana Addiction Treatment Center, our integration of an intensive outpatient program and recovery residence can help clients attain safe, effective treatment. While removing yourself from the temptations of drug use, you’re able to learn tools, techniques, and methods of recovery in a comfortable, luxurious environment. 

To avoid the detrimental effects of drug use on your physical and mental well-being, we encourage you to seek treatment immediately. The Ohana can help you start your recovery adventure today.

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