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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.