Addiction and the Brain PT. 2

COMMON SUBSTANCES AND THEIR EFFECTS

Alcohol

Alcohol is a depressant that produces euphoria and disinhibition. It has a relaxing effect and impairs the area of the brain responsible for judgment. Alcohol has an impact on the neurotransmitters responsible for forming new memories, which could account for the episodes of “blackouts” that some people experience. After repeatedly drinking in large quantities, the brain becomes less sensitive to the intoxicating effects of alcohol,however damage to the brain and organs such as the liver continues.

Withdrawal can include anxiety, insomnia, irritability, loss of appetite, rapid heartbeat and tremors, and even seizures. Furthermore, during withdrawals, hallucinations occur about 25 percent of the time. Benzodiazepines, like Valium, are often prescribed to reduce the risk of seizures and anxiety/irritability.

Benzodiazepines

Such as Valium and Xanax have a relaxing effect and are often prescribed for anxiety and panic attacks. Sometimes they are misused leading to an addiction that interferes with the normal sleep cycle. Upon withdrawal, the patient may have a greatly increased need for rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep, commonly accompanied by vivid frightening dreams.

Benzos decrease brain activity. Frequent chronic use can cause physical and psychological dependence but as they do not generate a feeling of euphoria the brain is less likely to associate the drug with positive reinforcement.

Withdrawal symptoms may include anxiety, emotional instability, sleep problems, seizures and or agitated depression.

GHB (Gamma-hydroxybutyrate)

Dr. Labroit, a French researcher synthesized GHB in 1960. It became popular as a sleep aid but was never used for its intended purpose as a surgical anesthesia because it lacked pain-relieving effects. Euphoria, increased sex drive, and tranquility are reported pleasant effects of GHB abuse. Negative effects may include sweating, loss of consciousness, nausea, hallucinations, amnesia, and coma, among other side effects. GHB is a depressant and in large doses can slow heart rate and breathing to dangerous levels.

Withdrawal symptoms include sweating, anxiety attacks, high blood pressure, and rapid pulse. Sometimes 4-5 days into a withdrawal patients may experience hallucinations or an altered mental state.

Opiates

This class of narcotics includes heroin, codeine, hydromorphone, oxycodone, fentanyl, and more. Over time the euphoric effects of opiates become less intense and tolerance can develop quite rapidly. The regular opioid user will end up using the drug to function in a normal state, no longer getting high. Death from opiate overdose is highly prevalent in the USA due to the depressing effects that opiates have on the respiratory system, especially when combined with alcohol or other sedatives. In 2017 over 70,000 people in the USA died from a drug overdose and the majority were caused by synthetic narcotics (mainly fentanyl), prescription opioids (eg oxycontin, Vicodin) and heroin.

Withdrawal can include nausea or vomiting, general unease, muscle pain, insomnia, sweating, rapid heartbeat, tremors, and/or excessive yawning.

Stimulants

Stimulants include cocaine, amphetamines, Ritalin, and more. Cocaine acts directly on the heart muscle, causing the heart to beat inefficiently and restricting its vessels. As such, the heart has to work harder to keep up with the restricted blood flow to the rest of the body. Chronic use can result in heart attack, stroke or seizures. The intense high from cocaine and or crack/freebase/coca paste is in proportion to the rapid withdrawal symptoms of anxiety, depression, and paranoia that lead to an intense craving for more. As mentioned earlier cocaine blocks the reuptake or “recycling” of dopamine, which means that dopamine is able to stimulate the receptors more intensely, acting on the reward pathways of the brain. Chronic cocaine use can deplete the normal stores of dopamine in the brain, causing depression and sometimes even suicide.

Amphetamines and methamphetamines are similar but slightly different. Methamphetamine is the most potent form of amphetamine. Long term methamphetamine use creates distortions in the white and gray matter of the brain. Over time this can lead to reduced motor function, impaired verbal learning and possible structural changes to the brain that affect emotion and memory. Amphetamines stimulate the part of the brain responsible for the ‘fight or flight’ response causing increased heart rate and blood pressure.

Withdrawal symptoms include depression, fatigue, increased appetite, muscle cramps, and prolonged sleep accompanied by REM (dream) sleep.

Cannabis

Short term effects include problems with memory and learning, difficulty in thinking, problem-solving, and distorted perception. Chemicals found in marijuana and hashish have an aging effect in particular clusters of cells found in various parts of the body such as the brain, liver, lungs, and sex organs. THC also impairs the immune systems ability to fight disease. Long term marijuana use can lead to amotivational syndrome which includes passivity, poor concentration, aimlessness, uncommunicativeness, lack of ambition, and apathy about the future.

Medicinal use has held interest for many years, particularly in obtaining relief from glaucoma and asthma, as well as from the side effects of chemotherapy. Its effectiveness over other forms of treatment remains controversial, especially in light of recent research that shows long term cannabis use creates structural abnormalities in the brain.

Withdrawal can cause irritability, insomnia, anxiety, and a decrease in appetite.

TO SUM IT ALL UP

Our brain is the site for all mind-altering drug interactions. Drugs and alcohol manipulate the biochemistry of the brain and change how the neurons communicate with each other. These changes alter the users’ perceptions, emotions, thoughts and behaviors over time. In addition, drugs have many effects on other organs. New insights and strategies to repair some of the damage caused by regular misuse of drugs and alcohol are being developed. For now, the best solution is abstinence from habit forming drugs and alcohol.

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