How Do Drugs Affect The Brain?

Misuse or abuse of substances can trigger issues due to the impact of drugs on the brain. Even occasional drug or alcohol consumption may give rise to long-term physical and mental health complications. Grasping how drugs influence the brain is vital for anticipating what lies ahead during drug therapy and sustained addiction recovery.

Recreational drugs are classified depending upon the effects that the substances have on the brain. Some drugs can be challenging to accurately categorize, as they might have effects that cross into other categories.

Drugs can generally fit into three main categories:

  1. Stimulants
  2. Depressants
  3. Hallucinogens

Each of these categories can have sub-categories that fit under the umbrella of the main category. These categories include legal and illegal drugs, as many legal substances can be highly addictive.

man with high-functioning depression

How Do Stimulant Drugs Affect the Brain?

Stimulants speed up the activity of the brain and the central nervous system (CNS). These drugs might be called “uppers” or “speed” due to their effects on the brain and CNS. You might take prescription stimulants for attention/deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or narcolepsy.

Stimulant drugs include:

  • Cocaine
  • Crack
  • Methamphetamine (meth)
  • Caffeine
  • Nicotine
  • Prescription drugs, like:
    • Adderall
    • Concerta
    • Ritalin

People who take these drugs will feel physical effects like:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Elevated body temperature
  • High blood pressure
  • Burst of energy
  • Heightened alertness and focus
  • Possibly feeling powerful or invulnerable

Stimulants cause you to feel energized and alert by artificially increasing dopamine, a neurotransmitter (brain chemical) that your brain releases naturally to help you take action, work, and focus.

When you abuse stimulants, you might have some of the following short- and long-term mental and physical side effects:

  • Weight loss
  • Sweating
  • Twitching
  • Paranoia
  • Racing thoughts
  • Impulsivity
  • Anxiety
  • Anger and agitation
  • Racing thoughts

How Do Depressants Affect the Brain?

Depressants have the opposite effect on the brain as stimulants. These drugs slow down the activity of the brain and CNS. Alcohol is one of the most commonly used depressants in the US and “alcohol use disorder is the most common type of substance use disorder in the United States,” according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

Depressants include substances like:

  • Alcohol
  • Opioids (heroin, oxycodone, morphine)
  • Benzodiazepines (Xanax, Valium, Klonopin)
  • Barbituates
  • Sleeping pills

While under the influence of depressants, you will experience some of the following physical effects:

  • Feeling relaxed or euphoric
  • Drowsy and sleepy
  • Decreased heart rate
  • Slowed breathing
  • Delayed reaction time

Depressants increase the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which helps you sleep and reduces anxiety to help you relax. Releasing too much GABA can be harmful to your physical and mental well-being.

The short- and long-term side effects of depressants include:

  • Lowered inhibitions
  • Impaired judgment
  • Loss of coordination
  • Risk of physical injury
  • Blackouts and memory loss
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Confusion

Are Opioids a Sub-Category of Depressants?

Opioids are sometimes classified in their own category. The unique challenges that the opioid crisis has placed on American communities could lead to the importance of distinguishing opioids from other depressants.

However, when discussing the effects on the brain and CNS, opioids and other depressants have essentially the same impact. Alcohol and opioids are also among the most addictive substances due to the severity of withdrawal symptoms.

What Are Hallucinogens?

Hallucinogens alter your sense of reality by affecting how you process information from your senses. You might have “extrasensory experiences” known as hallucinations.

  • Common hallucinogens include:
    • Ketamine
    • LSD
    • PCP
    • Mescaline
    • DMT

    Hallucinogens interfere with the neurotransmitters serotonin and glutamate, which are responsible for essential functions like:

    • Emotions and mood
    • Sensory input
    • Appetite
    • Muscle control
    • Pain perception

    Using hallucinogens can cause some of the following short- and long-term side effects:

    • Altered sense of time
    • Increased heart rate
    • Intense feelings and sensations
    • Panic and paranoia
    • Lack of coordination
    • Sleep disturbances
    • Flashbacks (unexpected hallucinations when not using drugs)
    • Psychosis, which includes:
      • Seeing things that are not there
      • Hearing voices
      • Disorganized thinking

Other Commonly Used Substances

Some substances don’t fit into one of the main three categories. These drugs affect the brain and CNS in ways that can be classified under more than one or all of the drug categories.

Substances that can fit under multiple categories include:

  • Marijuana
  • MDMA (molly or ecstasy)
  • Kratom
  • Synthetic cathinones (bath salts)
  • Synthetic cannabinoids

Can You Recover From the Effects of Drugs on the Brain

You can recover from the effects that drugs have on the brain and body. When you stop using drugs, you might have withdrawal symptoms as you adjust to no longer having substances in your system. The severity of withdrawal depends upon the type of drugs you use, the length of time you have been using drugs, and the amount you consume on average.

Your brain and body can repair themselves from the damage of drugs; however, you need to give yourself time. By getting substance abuse treatment, you can safely detox to get rid of the harmful chemicals in your body. Inpatient drug rehab can help you learn to maintain lifelong sobriety and understand underlying issues at the root of your addiction. Peer support and outpatient services can help you stay sober as you rebuild your life throughout long-term addiction recovery.

Addiction Treatment in Singer Island, FL

Drug and Alcohol Treatment in South Florida

If you or your loved one are concerned about how drugs are affecting your brain and body, you can get help to begin addiction recovery today. Ambrosia Treatment Center of South Florida is here to help you reclaim your life and learn a better way of living. Call us today or visit our admissions page to get started.

We Accept Most Insurances

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