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Does Drug Abuse Actually Hurt Your Brain?

Anatomical model of a brain

Drugs, narcotics, and other similar substances are designed to change your brain’s chemistry and your ability to perceive your reality in one way or another. Some drugs will increase your pain tolerance while others will cause heightened awareness or hallucinations, for example. Because narcotics affect your brain and mind, the underlying risk to all narcotics is physical damage to the brain and a permanent alteration to how you think and behave as a consequence of that damage.

The type of potential brain damage is dependent on the specific type of narcotic taken, such as:

  • Dopamine receptor damage: Drugs like marijuana, heroin, and opioid painkillers can damage the brain’s dopamine receptors. Using such a drug will change your mood temporarily by affecting your natural dopamine production. Abuse that damages these receptors can permanently or semi-permanently make it more difficult for you to control your mood or feel motivated to complete even simple tasks.
  • Serotonin neurotransmitter damage: Drugs like ecstasy and “street-level” hallucinogens can damage your brain’s serotonin neurotransmitters. Serotonin is a “happiness hormone” that affects your entire body. When you have serotonin in healthy measures, you feel happy and less prone to mood swings. Abusing substances that target your serotonin transmitters can permanently damage them, which can cause depression and a loss of positive emotions.
  • GABA creation issues: Benzodiazepines can change the brain’s creation and use of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which is a tranquilizer. GABA helps you react to stressful situations without feeling anxiety. Benzo abuse can alter your brain’s GABA production, causing anxiety. A severe addiction to benzodiazepines can cause significant brain damage in some users, potentially causing central nervous system damage as well.
  • Adrenal response issues: Ecstasy and some opiates can trigger norepinephrine production in the brain. Norepinephrine acts similarly to adrenaline in that it invigorates the central nervous system during fight-or-flight moments and generally increases focus. If brain damage occurs, norepinephrine production can be altered, leaving you in a constant state of paranoia. Some people will experience hyper-fixation that is outside of their control.

To prevent permanent damage to the cerebral cortex, limbic system, and brain stem, it is important to challenge drug addiction and abuse before it can reach that point. When damage has been done to the brain, it is often permanent, so catching potential sources of harm early is crucial. If you or a loved one are struggling with substance addiction, then please reach out to a drug recovery center and/or a mental health professional as soon as possible.

The Carter Treatment Center offers drug recovery programs in Cumming and Suwanee, Georgia. Contact us now if you need our help. We’re here to support and guide you.