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Drugs and Your Brain: The Impact of Drug Abuse on your Brain


Psychiatric research’s hottest topic has always been the origin of mental illnesses. The source of a problem is where the solution most often lies, which is why scientists and doctors are looking for answers to find better treatment options for psychiatric patients. There are many plausible answers as to where mental disorders come from, but one possible answer is in recreational drug use. Psychiatric illnesses and drug addiction tend to go hand in hand; many psychiatrists encounter patients who have or still use drugs and have an addiction. While the correlation between drug use and mental disorders is still being debated, there are negative consequences that impact mental health when one abuses drugs.

In this article, we want to shed light on the effects drug use and abuse can have on mental health and brain development. We would like to bring to public knowledge the negative biological consequences of substance abuse to help slow down the increasing number of addicts in the United States and across the world.

So what do drugs do to your brain? What happens to the chemicals in your brain when you take drugs? Drugs can affect your brain by mainly two ways: by either imitating chemical messengers or by overstimulating the reward center of your brain. Both of these methods have long-term consequences that can lead to addiction (Drug Facts, National Institute on Drug Abuse).

            Some drugs like marijuana and heroin have chemicals that can imitate structures and processes in the brain. They can bind to receptors in the brain because their structures look very similar. When this happens, chemicals are released in your brain that gives euphoric feelings, the results of having ingested marijuana or heroin.

Other drugs excessively stimulate brain cells, causing them to release too much dopamine. Dopamine is known as the reward center neurotransmitter, and has an influence on movement, learning and attention. Our reward center is activated whenever we do things that make us feel good. A common activator of our reward center is working out. The good feeling we get after intense exercise comes from our reward center. It is the same with taking drugs. Just as working out slightly opens the door to our reward center, taking drugs forces the door open and keeps it open for long periods of time. Because drugs activate our reward center like no other stimulus, it is incredibly easy for our bodies to develop addictions to drugs that do so (National Institute on Drug Abuse).

Drug use can have huge repercussions on a country. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “estimates of the total overall costs of substance abuse in the United States, including productivity and health- and crime-related costs, exceed $600 billion annually” (Drug Facts, National Institute on Drug Abuse). As the NIDA continues, these numbers are shocking, but cannot imply the destruction drugs can have on education, families and employment opportunities.

Researchers today are looking into whether there is causation or correlation between drug abuse and mental illnesses. It is still unsure whether one causes the other. Officials at the NIDA state that either drug abuse or a mental illness can present itself first, and that mental illnesses can lead to drug abuse in an individual. Dr. Josette Romain, general physician of Medical Research Group of Central Florida believes that while causation is unsure, drug abuse can make manifest a hidden mental illness in an individual. For example, if someone has a family history of mental illnesses and has a higher chance of developing the same disorder, taking recreational drugs increases that person’s chance of developing the disorder.

Priscille Yancich, Registered Nurse of Medical Research Group of Central Florida shared her experience in treating patients who abuse drugs: “I see usually that a lot of patients take it as a coping mechanism, such as self medicating. The younger generation uses drugs like pot to treat an overlying mental disorder like bipolar disorder. It’s usually clearly not effective enough and it comes with bad side effects.”

 Our hope for the future is more clarity on the correlation between drug abuse and mental illnesses, to help those who are suffering from both. Understanding the link between drug abuse and mental illness can help us concentrate our research efforts to help more people. We make every effort count in our path towards more cures for those dealing with mental disorders, whether it is through pharmaceutical treatments or preventative measures. This isn’t an effort we can do alone. Every contribution from our community helps scientists get closer to giving patients who are suffering the help they need.



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