The effects of various drugs on the human brain are both physiological and psychological. Those with substance abuse problems often prize their drug of choice for the euphoric feelings with which it is associated. However, these effects are usually short-lived, and it is this process that typically drives addicts to use drugs on a continuous basis so that the high they have become used to can be maintained. There is a vast array of substances to which one can become addicted, some of which permanently alter structures in the brain and others that primarily affect parts of the body such as the heart and circulatory system.
The human nervous system regulates a natural chemical called dopamine, which has a distinct impact on the way the central nervous system functions. Dopamine is also associated with pleasurable sensations, and substances such as narcotics and methamphetamines block its reabsorption, resulting in a buildup of the chemical. Depending on one’s drug of choice, the euphoric period may last anywhere from 15 minutes several hours before it begins to subside. However, teenagers often experience a stronger euphoria and one that lasts longer. In addition, their brains are at a higher risk for organic changes. According to the Mayo Clinic, the specific reason for this is not yet known. Additional research indicates that teens suffering from addiction are more likely to engage in risky behavior than adults with substance abuse problems.
Drug users typically experience intense energy, even if they were tired or sleepy just prior to consuming the substance. Unfortunately, damage from lack of rest is still being done to the person’s body and mind, despite the fact that he or she does not feel tired or exhausted.
Hyper-stimulation is also an effect of both prescription medications that are used inappropriately, as well as illicit substances. According to the Cleveland Clinic, this is often referred to as the “Superman affect,” as it makes users feel as if they are invincible when high. Again, this particular side effect is more pronounced in teenagers.
Irritability and Paranoia
The brain’s tolerance for what would normally be considered minor irritations is significantly lowered when substances such as cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines and crack are taken. According to Johns Hopkins University this may be due to the hyper-stimulation of brain cells or the creation of additional neurotransmitters to handle the substance, both of which could cause the user to experience unreasonable anger and erratic mood swings.
Delusions of persecution and irrational suspicions are also classic side effects of substance abuse. Paranoia of this type can eventually result in psychosis, the latter of which ultimately causes the person to break with reality and experience delusions or hallucinations. The latter is the experience of seeing or hearing something in the absence of any stimulus. Delusions, on the other hand, are based on real things, but the stimuli is misinterpreted. For example, a spider may be crawling across the floor, but the addict sees a three legged monster.
Treatment is essential for teens or adults struggling with addiction, but the longer the person procrastinates, the less chance there is of a successful detox and recovery. For this reason, anyone addicted to prescription medication or illegal substances should seek a quality treatment program as soon as possible.