Drug use can interfere with the normal chemistry in the brain, and misusing medications often causes a significant amount of damage. These changes may not cause any symptoms at first, but over time they become more noticeable to both others and the user. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, drug addiction occurs when repeated drug use leads to changes in the function of multiple brain circuits. The good news is that once an individual quits taking drugs, the brain can begin to heal and over time resume its normal operation.
Types of Drugs that Can Cause Neurological Changes
All addictive drugs work in the brain to produce a range of euphoric effects. Some of the most common of these include:
- Tobacco, nicotine and vaping
Noticing Changes in Behavior
Because drug use interferes with normal brain activity, it can result in noticeable changes in behavior. Some of these include:
- Difficulty managing impulses
- Trouble with controlling emotions
- Problems remembering important dates, meetings and work or social obligations
- Challenges in learning new information
- Changes in sleep behaviors
- Experiencing hallucinations
- Heightened anxiety
There are some conditions caused by drug use that may cause permanent damage, including seizures and stroke.
Areas of the Brain Affected by Substance Abuse
With long-term drug and alcohol abuse, the brain shrinks and the ability to process information is damaged. According to the Surgeon General, some of these parts of the brain include the limbic system, which includes the hippocampus, the hypothalamus and the amygdala, the frontal lobe and the basal ganglia.
The limbic system is responsible for processing emotions and memory function. It’s involved in many behaviors needed for survival, including caring for others and the flight or fight response. When someone uses drugs, the limbic system releases dopamine, a substance that causes feelings of happiness or euphoria. With prolonged drug use, the brain adjusts to these surges in dopamine by reducing the number of receptors that process it. This is why many drug and alcohol users seem depressed and are no longer interested in things that once gave them joy.
The frontal lobe regulates how the brain processes choices and makes decisions. When it’s not working as it should an individual may have difficulty saying no to abusing drugs or taking a drink which results in harmful habits or addictive behaviors. The frontal lobe controls parts of the brain in the limbic system, including the amygdala. The amygdala is the emotional center of the brain. When it’s not working properly an individual may have a difficult time dealing with stress, suffer from panic disorder and suffer from mood swings.
The basal ganglia activates the brains reward system. It recognizes pleasure, such as having fun with friends, enjoying a meal and the feelings felt after reading a good book or watching a movie. When the amygdala is overstimulated by drug use, there is a loss in sensitivity and as a result only drug use can activate this reward center, which can lead to things like substance use disorder.
Ways to Help Repair Your Brain
The brain has the ability to adapt and repair itself over time once and individual decides to eliminate drug and alcohol use. Damaged parts of the brain can use other neural circuits to perform functions and in some cases brain inflammation and damaged nerve cells can repair themselves. There are steps you can take to help repair your brain.
Eliminating drug and alcohol use immediately gives your brain a fresh start. At first, there will be feelings of withdrawal due to the sudden change, but over time as the body begins to readjust to the chemical changes, the brain’s natural chemical balance will return. In treatment, you can begin to ignore the drug cravings and readjust to life without drugs.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), CBT is a form of psychological treatment that works to change the thinking pattern in those with drug and alcohol addiction and other disorders like mental illness and anxiety. CBT strategies include facing one’s fears, using role play to prepare for upcoming problems and learning how to calm one’s mind.
Meditation helps you focus on the positive and reduce the likelihood of relapse. Meditation can increase the size of the grey matter in the brain which helps you make better decisions and exhibit self-control, it increases your memory and can lessen fear and anxiety.
Overcoming drug and alcohol addiction is possible and the brain has a way of repairing itself once you take the first steps to recovery. Let America’s Rehab Campuses provide the support you need to quit the addiction cycle. Contact us for a confidential consultation today.