How do drugs affect the brain?

When thinking about how drugs affect people, friends and family often focus on the visible. For example, they see the changes in personality, financial problems, and deteriorating health. However, they often don’t ask how do drugs affect the brain. It’s just as important because the brain plays such an important role in addiction.

Exactly How Do Drugs Affect the Brain?How do drugs affect the brain?

It’s important to realize that different kinds of drugs affect the brain differently.

Alcohol, for example, reduces your ability to form memories. Heavy, long-term drinking or alcohol addiction can actually reduce your brain’s size and damage your ability to think. Cocaine, however, activates the pleasure center in your brain. Long-term use can cause paranoia and hallucinations.

The thing all drugs have in common is they alter the amount of certain chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters.


There are several important neurotransmitters. Depending on which neurotransmitter(s) are affected, the high a user experiences will change. The ones drugs most frequently affect include:

  • Dopamine
  • Serotonin
  • GABA
  • Norepinephrine

In fact, dopamine creates a sense of pleasure, while serotonin affects your mood. GABA is a natural calming agent. Norepinephrine, however, amps you up to take action. By tweaking or affecting the levels of these in the brain, drugs are able to produce the feelings and emotions they do in individuals.

It’s important to remember that your body makes these chemicals and for good reasons. In normal doses, they help keep you mentally and emotionally stable. Furthermore, they also help your brain prepare for or appreciate an activity.

For example, the smell of a steak on the grill triggers a small dopamine release in the brain of someone who likes steak. The smell becomes a source of pleasure.

What drugs typically do is trick your brain into making huge amounts of these chemicals. Cocaine does this by preventing the brain from turning off the flow of dopamine. As the dopamine builds up, you experience euphoria. Addiction begins to occur as the brain begins to rely on cocaine to produce dopamine.

Types of Drugs and How They Affect the Brain

How Does Cocaine Affect the Brain?

Specifically, you can inject, snort, or smoke cocaine. In this case, the cocaine reaches your brain through the bloodstream. Once an individual uses cocaine, the brain releases dopamine, a feel-good chemical that is responsible for euphoric feelings. More, the cocaine stops the dopamine from recycling so it builds up quickly in the brain. This flood of dopamine changes how the brain communicates with itself and the rest of your body.

In the long-term cocaine abuse can lead to many problems for your brain. Specifically, your brain on drugs is never going to be in its healthiest state. For example, long-term cocaine use can lead to severe paranoia, hallucinations, mood disorders, seizures, and an increased risk of developing Parkinson’s disease.

How Does Heroin Affect the Brain?

Heroin creates a completely different high than cocaine effects. However, its effects on the brain can be similar in certain situations. Your brain on drugs, no matter which drug, will always suffer from symptoms.

Long-term heroin use affects your prefrontal cortex and temporal lobe in your brain. These parts of your brain are responsible of memory, decision-making, and self-control. In addition, you may begin to struggle to control your behavior, process information and emotions, as well as memory problems.

How Does Alcohol Affect the Brain?

Alcohol is one of the most common drugs that lead to addiction. Because it’s socially acceptable, many people don’t even recognize they have a problem. However, your brain on drugs such as alcohol can be devastating. Alcohol is one of the most abused and dangerous substances but treatment is readily available in almost all locations.

In fact, long-term alcohol users regularly develop problems with intellectual functioning. NIAA research supports that up to 80 percent of chronic alcohol users have a thiamine deficiency, and some will develop a serious brain disorder known as Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome (WKS).

Treating Drug Dependence and Addiction

How do drugs affect the brain is an important question. Just as important is the question, what’s the best way to treat drug dependence and addiction?

For most kinds of dependence and addiction, the best option is a chemical dependence treatment center. Additionally, treatment centers offer medical staff and experts in addiction treatments. For example, some centers offer both traditional therapies and holistic treatments, such as:

This combination of traditional and holistic treatments helps address the mental and emotional side of addiction, as well as the physical and spiritual.

Drug Addiction Rehabilitation in Asheville, NC

Your brain on drugs can result in a variety of disorders, diseases, or cognitive problems. Therefore, our goal at Crest View Recovery Center in Asheville, NC is to prevent and treat drug addiction to ensure your safety and overall wellbeing. Without drug addiction help, you may remain active in substance abuse throughout your life.

Reach out to CVRC today at 866-986-1371 for more information about our programs, such as our crack addiction treatment program, dual diagnosis, reality therapy, and individual counseling. Your brain on drugs can heal through professional guidance and and proven therapies. Overcome your addiction today with Crest View by your side.

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