How do Substances Affect the Brain?
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How do Substances Affect the Brain?

How do Substances Affect the Brain?

The brain is far and away, the most complex organ in the human body. It is at the center of every activity you do, like driving, walking, eating, and creating. The brain is responsible for regulating your body's essential functions, enabling you to interpret and respond to everything you experience. The brain even shapes your behavior. Your brain is you. It is everything you think you are. It is essential to take care of your brain to function healthily.

However, the brain is a complex operating system within our bodies that can become overworked, stressed, and harmed – more specifically, it can become impaired by drugs and alcohol to the point of rendering it incapable of performing even the most basic of tasks.

Brain Function

The brain is an elaborate processing center responsible for the input and output of information around us. It helps you respond in different situations that range from social to survival. The brain also consists of billions of cells called neurons. Neurons organize into circuits and networks. The neurons carry information throughout the brain, which helps to signal and activate different parts within the brain to respond appropriately to whatever you are doing.

For example, if you are throwing a ball, neurotransmitters and transporters will activate your cerebellum, the part of the brain that plays a central role in physical movement. Such circuitry interconnects within the brain, and they all work together. This circuitry affects your spinal cord, nerves, and your peripheral nervous system. While this is a complex process, it is also a deliberate process and functions best to process information healthily.

Substances and the Brain

Drugs interfere and influence the brain's ability to move information around by blocking or distorting the signals. Some drugs such as marijuana and heroin can mimic the chemical structure of a natural transmitter in the body, which allows these drugs to attach and activate neurons. However, while they mimic the brain's chemicals, they don't activate neurons the same way as a natural transmitter and therefore send abnormal messages through the network. Other drugs can cause the brain to release large amounts of natural neurotransmitters and harm the natural recycling process of brain chemicals, thus hindering communication between neurons.

Why Does This Happen?

The brain consists of different divisions that are responsible for many bodily and cognitive functions. For example, the cerebellum helps with physical movement, while the hippocampus is responsible for learning and memory recall. When drugs interfere, they can affect any or all of these different divisions within the brain. These crucial areas for life-sustaining functions can even drive your compulsive need to use drugs, turning your substance use into an addiction. When your use becomes an addiction, your body craves the substance.

Over time, your brain needs the substance to produce higher volumes of chemicals to mimic the feelings associated with ordinary activities. However, since there has been long-term use, regions such as the basal ganglia no longer find pleasure from healthy activities like eating, socializing, and sex. It is why initially, in early recovery, you might feel emotionally numb. However, it is because your brain has produced so many chemicals and hormones that it needs time to balance these chemicals and hormones again so that you can enjoy healthy activities.

Substance use does not only dull emotions; they perpetuate other negative responses throughout the body. For instance, the brain's extended amygdala region sends out stress responses responsible for anxiety and unease, which characterize withdrawal after the high fades, causing you to seek more. Simultaneously, the prefrontal cortex, responsible for thinking, planning, and solving, responds to act solely under the control of your impulses, thus impairing your judgment and memory. Before long, your brain uses the substance stimuli as the primary reward rather than healthy reward systems. It is also why it can become challenging to overcome an addiction.

Can the Brain Heal?

The good news is that the brain and the body are resilient. The first step to restoring healthy brain function is to stop using drugs and alcohol. The brain and the chemical and hormones operate best when there is balance. When you take away the substances that cause it to create more, it will begin to balance. The process of stopping use is challenging as you will experience withdrawal and other impulsive and compulsive symptoms, which is why you should always consult a professional when detoxing.

Over time you can restore your natural chemical balance. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) sessions can also help you regain your thoughts, memory, and emotions. The damage done to your brain depends on the amount you use and how long; however, working on exercises that strengthen brain function and no longer using it helps protect your brain from further harm and even helps to regenerate cells lost.

Substances damage the brain, disrupt your balance and even perpetuate underlying diseases and disorders. However, hope is not lost – even if you have spent years using substances. At START UP RECOVERY, we work with each individual, meeting them where they are in recovery to best help provide them the opportunity to get the most from life. Our efforts transcend treatment and influence transformation. We have continued to grow our community to ensure you have the best network of support and guidance to help motivate and keep you accountable in your journey to lasting recovery. We don't just focus on personal growth; we also focus on professional development so that you can fulfill every facet of your life. However, the journey does not begin, nor does it continue until you take that next step. Find out more about how you can get started by calling START UP RECOVERY today at (310) 773-3809.

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