2 Ways Drugs Impact Neurotransmitters

Content medically reviewed by Vicky Magobet, PMHNP-BC, on October 20, 2020.

When someone frequently uses drugs, it can affect both their lifestyle and brain. In the complex processes of the brain, drugs introduce new levels of neurotransmitters, which dramatically alter brain function outside of drug use. With these powerful effects, drug users are more likely to develop an addiction.

What Is Neurotransmission and Why Are Neurotransmitters Important?

Billions of cells, called neurons, create the structure of your brain. When your brain needs to send a signal to another part of the body, these neurons work together to communicate that message — called neurotransmission. These electrical signals are crucial to the operation of the brain and body. They tell you to react to pain, eat when you're hungry and process everything your senses absorb. If any outside factors disrupt this process, your brain experiences a range of functional issues. Drugs are notorious for the ways they affect natural neurotransmission in the brain.

2 Ways Drugs Negatively Impact Neurotransmission

Different drugs affect the brain in different ways but typically impact neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin. While drugs' effects lead to the high people chase, the aftermath of these responses can cause neurotransmission problems.

1. Losing Dopamine Responses

You've probably heard of dopamine before because it's the neurotransmitter that regulates pleasure. Drugs such as amphetamines and cocaine create a significant release of dopamine, giving your brain a rush of pleasure. However, this leads to a severe depletion of the chemical once the high is over.

After your brain experiences a rush of dopamine, it uses incentive sensitization, meaning it becomes more sensitive to the chemical release. With this sensitivity to drug use, you lose dopamine response in other life-sustaining activities that normally trigger its release. Activities such as eating no longer create pleasure, so an addict will favor using drugs over life-sustaining practices because it creates a sense of pleasure over everything else.

2. Going Long Periods Without Serotonin

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter mainly responsible for regulating mood, but it also manages sleep and digestion. So, how do drugs affect serotonin? Just as drug use leads to a rush of pleasure with dopamine production, it creates a rush of happiness with a flush of serotonin. Cocaine produces a flood of this neurotransmitter as well.

Problems occur once drug use ceases, especially during long periods of withdrawal. With serotonin deficits during sober periods, a person is more likely to feel depressed or anxious, which may push them to turn to a drug again for a mood boost.

Get Help Ending a Drug Addiction With Diamond House Detox

The nature of drug addiction is cyclical. As drug use affects the presence of neurotransmitters, addicts must constantly turn to substance use to feel good. At Diamond House Detox, our private facilities in northern California and our medical model of recovery create ways to break the cycle and beat addiction. The powerful effects drugs have on the brain and cerebellum make a strong support system crucial to recovery.

If you're interested in our facilities, contact us to ask questions or start the application process.

Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner at Diamond House Detox
Vicky is a board certified Family Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner, certified by the American Nurses Credentialing Center. She began her nursing career in healthcare by working in the intensive care unit, and then an inpatient psychiatric hospital. After realizing the mental health needs of both the patients and the families she served, she became a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner. Throughout her experience working with clients, she has developed a passion for those with dual diagnoses and specializes in helping individuals recognize the issues driving their substance use. This recognition has been crucial to the individual’s success in treatment. Vicky opened Diamond House Detox so that she can address these issues early on in a therapeutic environment to allow clients to transition to the next level in their recovery.
Vicky Magobet
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