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How Does Drug Abuse Affect Your Brain?

Verified By August 11, 2020 5736 0
Drug Abuse
Drug Abuse

The human brain is one of the most complex organs. Scientists and researchers are still trying to understand the full extent of the abilities and how our brain works. It handles and regulates all the rest of the body’s functions while also being responsible for cognitive thought.

The brain works tirelessly throughout your life, even when you are asleep. It receives information from your environment from a host of receptors, processes the data, and processes it to aid in optimal functioning.

In recent years, neurologists and psychiatrists have classified drug abuse, also referred to as substance use disorder, as an illness as it affects the brain’s neurological functioning. Let us understand how drug abuse can affect your brain in the short and long term.

Drug Abuse and the Brain

The abuse of drugs can cause severe harmful effects on an individual’s life. Apart from this, it can also affect the brain of the patient. Drugs include alcohol, nicotine, and painkillers, and not just illegal drugs like marijuana, heroin, or cocaine. Drug abuse affects three areas of the brain:

  1. The Brainstem: It connects your brain to the spinal cord. It is responsible for all the functions of your body.
  2. The Limbic System: This controls our emotional responses
  3. The Cerebral Cortex: Cerebral cortex controls a range of functions, including our thinking centers, decision making, and problem-solving. It is also responsible for external processing stimuli received by our five senses.

Essentially, drugs that are abused ,  are chemicals that interfere with the brain’s regular functioning. They can affect the transmission of signals between the nerves and the brain and tamper with the brain’s ability to process  information.

Different types of drugs have different effects on the nervous system. Some mimic the brain’s natural neurotransmitters, which causes the nerve cells to send out abnormal messages to the brain. Others overstimulate the production of dopamine, which is responsible for making us feel good. In such cases, the signals received by the brain are exaggerated.

Symptoms of Drug Abuse

Substance use disorder or Drug Abuse can present itself like most other addictions, along with specific unique physiological symptoms. Here is a list of symptoms for drug abuse:

  1. Urge to use the drug regularly — every day or even several times a day
  2. Having intense urges for the drug which blocks out any other thoughts
  3. Increasing the dose of the drug to get the same effect
  4. Withdrawal symptoms while attempting to reduce or stop using drugs
  5. Spending excessive money on the drug even if though you cannot afford it
  6. Continue using the drug, even though you know it is causing troubles in life or even causing you physical or psychological harm
  7. Poor work performance
  8. Reduced social activities
  9. Erratic or risky behavior while on the drug
  10. Unable to stop taking the drug even if you want to

In case you suspect a close loved one of suffering from drug addiction, you can look out for the following signs:

  • School or workplace problems
  • Problems with money
  • Neglecting their physical appearance
  • Changes in behavior
  • Physical changes like sudden loss of weight or injection marks

Risk Factors

While anyone can suffer from substance use disorder, certain factors make some people more susceptible to addiction. Some of these factors include:

  • Previous mental health disorder – Some mental health conditions like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or anxiety can cause patients to self-regulate their emotions using drugs.
  • Peer pressure – Studies have shown that teenagers and young adults are more likely to abuse drugs if their peers are also using it.
  • Family history of addiction – Studies have shown that there can be a strong genetic disposition to abusing drugs.
  • Neglect – A lack of familial bonds or a problematic home environment can push certain at-risk youth to reach out to drugs.
  • Highly addictive drugs – Certain drugs are more addictive than others. These include stimulants, opioids, and cocaine.
  • Early use – The earlier a person begins to use drugs, the more they are likely to develop a substance use disorder.


Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all treatment for drug abuse. Based on your history and circumstances, your doctor recommends a combination of treatments that can help you fight the addiction. It is important to note that addiction is a difficult disease and requires a lot of commitment from the addict’s side.

Some of the common treatments used in addressing drug abuse include:

  • Chemical dependency treatment programs
  • Cognitive Behavior Therapy or CBT
  • Detoxification
  • Self-help groups like Narcotics Anonymous or Alcoholics Anonymous

Complications of Drug Abuse

Drug abuse can have long- and short-term complications, especially when combined with other harmful substances like alcohol and other drugs. Some of these complications include:

  • Psychotic behavior, seizures, or even death due to an overdose.
  • Some drugs termed as ‘date-rape drugs’ can cause mental confusion, sedation, and even memory loss. In high doses, it can induce a coma or even death.
  • Electrolyte imbalances, dehydration, and brain damage.
  • Since most harmful or illegal drugs are not regulated, they can be mixed with extremely toxic chemicals that can cause lasting harm to your body.

Drug abuse victims will often find that their behavior increasingly becomes erratic and puts them in harm due to increased risk-taking and poor cognitive thinking. Outcomes arising from such behavior are severe enough and frequent enough to be a part of drug abuse complications. These include:

  • Increased risk for STDs
  • Accidents
  • Suicide
  • Work, school, and family issues
  • Legal problems
  • Financial issues


The best way to prevent drug abuse is abstinence. If you have been prescribed any medication by your doctor, discuss becoming addicted to the same. They might prescribe a different class of medication or treatment that will not risk addiction.

Some steps you can take to prevent drug use in children and teenagers are:

  • Open communication: Your children should not feel afraid to talk to you about anything, particularly the sensitive topics. An open and honest communication system can help teenagers and children healthily process their emotions and thoughts.
  • Build bonds: Work on your relationship with your children. While you are their parent and have a large set of responsibilities, you should also have a personal connection with your child. Work on spending some alone time with them where you encourage their interests.
  • Be a good example: Do not abuse alcohol or other drugs in the presence of your child. Children whose parents are addicts are at a higher risk of developing an addiction themselves.

A drug addict will fight their addiction for the rest of their lives. Here are a few ways in which you can prevent a relapse:

  • Avoid high-risk situations: If you know that a particular situation will trigger your need for a fix or that there will be others you will be using, then avoid it. If unavoidable, then have a trusted friend or family member by your side to keep you grounded.
  • Stick to a treatment plan: No matter how hard your treatment plan might seem, you must stick to it. Monitor any triggers or cravings you might be having and attend all therapy sessions as mandated by your healthcare provider.
  • Reach out for help: If you do use again, please immediately reach out to a health care expert. Be sure of their credentials and visit only reputed medical institutions like Apollo Hospitals for your care.


Can someone die from drug abuse?

Unfortunately, many thousands of people, both young and old, die each year from drug abuse. While a significant majority of those deaths result from an overdose, many are also caused due to a sustained abuse of drugs.

What is addiction?

Addiction is a chronic brain condition where the patient repeatedly seeks out the drug despite knowing its harmful effects. While the drug’s first use might be voluntary, over time, the substance will cause dependency on the patient.

How do I know if someone has a drug problem?

As a general rule of thumb, if the person is exhibiting sudden and unexplained behavior changes, they might be abusing drugs. These changes include an unkempt appearance, missing school or work, and mood changes and interactions with others.

How can I help someone who has a drug problem?

The first thing you must do is offer your support and get in touch with trained medical professionals for immediate help. Provide support and encouragement to them as they begin their journey to recovery.

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