Addictions and the Brain

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The implications of substance use on an individual’s life can be profound and it is likely that many different aspects of their well-being will be affected. There can be an infinite number of negative consequences as a result of substance use for individuals’ physical, mental and social well-being. Even if individuals may be aware of these negative effects that substance use can bring about, it can nevertheless be difficult to discontinue it. One of the main reasons for this has to do with the effects of substances on the brain.

Short-Term Effects

Usually substance use occurs because individuals tend to want to experience the pleasurable short-term effects over and over again. Substances typically affect the reward system in the brain and increase the amount of certain neurotransmitters, which are chemical messengers of the nervous system. One neurotransmitter that tends to be affected is called dopamine and it is present in areas of the brain that are responsible for regulating movement, emotion, motivation and feelings of pleasure.

In addition to these effects substance use can also impair individuals’:

•     motor functioning

•     decision-making

•     problem-solving

•     and reduce inhibition

 

Although these are some of the short-term effects, substance use can also have a long-term impact on the brain’s functioning.

 

Long-Term Effects

Even though the long-term effects of substances may develop over time and they may not always be noticed as soon as they occur, they are nevertheless very very important to consider as they may have life-long implications even after the addiction has been addressed. Because the brain already produces a certain amount of neurotransmitters, continuous substance use tends to impair that function. When an individual starts to rely on substances, the brain naturally decreases its production of neurotransmitters and thus the individual is left to rely on substances to experience those pleasurable effects.

Some long-term effects may include:

•     memory loss

•     changes in alertness

•     irritability

•     sleep problems

•     loss of coordination

•     and they may contribute to various mental health conditions including depression and anxiety

Keep in mind however, that the presence and severity of any of these effects can vary depending on the type of substance, the frequency of use and various other factors in individuals’ lives.

If you would like to speak more about substance use and ways you can address it, you can contact me here.

 

Resources:

https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/drugs-brain

http://www.projectknow.com/research/effects-of-drug-abuse/

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