It’s been only in the last 10 years that brain research has become scientifically popular. However, the research that has been done on the brain has revealed significant information. This includes how the use of drugs and alcohol affects not only the brain’s functioning but it’s structure as well.
It’s clear now that the regular use of alcohol, especially the ongoing use of harsh drugs such as methamphetamine, can significantly alter the brain, sometimes resulting in brain damage. What happens is that foreign substances, such as recreational drugs, affect the ability for neurons to communicate with one another.
Experts in the field of drug and alcohol addiction have known that addiction usually shows a significant increase in dopamine in the brain as well as the presence of glutamate, the brain’s excitatory chemical. Increase or decrease of dopamine in the brain can affect the communication between neurons and affect the functioning of the brain.
What Research Has Shown About Addiction
Brain research has revealed that a healthy brain is one that can continue to make new neural connections and release old ones. The connections between neurons are important in a person’s learning, behavior, communication, memory formation, mood regulation, and overall mental health.
Yet, when a drug enters the brain, it locks onto the receptors and activates the nerve cells. However, because the drug is not the neurotransmitter that is intended for that receptor, the neurons end up sending abnormal messages throughout the brain. Of course, this leads to hallucination, abnormal thoughts, and change in perception.
What’s worse is that addiction is like an ever worsening disease, further damaging the brain. When a person is experiencing addiction, his or her brain continues to be stimulated by whatever he or she is addicted to.
And that activation is so strong that the addiction becomes the sole focus of one’s life to the exclusion and detriment of other life-activities. The stimulation in the brain creates desire to continue to use, which only makes the addiction stronger and harder to break.
Warning Signs of the Brain’s Decreasing Functionality and Health:
- Depression – There are different types of depression. However, in general, this mental illness affects over 50 million adults in the United States. It is a good indication that the brain is not functioning as it should.
- Obesity / Overweight – This is also a national epidemic. There are two thirds of Americans who are overweight and one third who are obese. As a whole there is an obsession with food, eating, and making unhealthy food choices. Research has shown that as your weight goes up your ability to think and reason goes down. Furthermore, there are health consequences to being overweight such as Alzheimer’s disease, depression, heart disease, cancer, and diabetes
- Memory Loss – Because the use of drugs and alcohol affect neurons in the brain that govern the functioning of our memory, it can be easy to see that developing a poor memory can be a symptom that the brain is beginning to deteriorate.
- Impulsivity – According to Daniel Amen’s list, “The quality of the decisions you make is a direct reflection of the health of your brain; and it is the quality of your decisions that determines your success in life, whether it is in your relationships, work, money, or your physical and mental health.” The tendency to be impulsive can undermine the ability to make sound decisions that affect the future. Impulsivity is usually about making quick choices for immediate gratification.
- Inability to Concentrate – This is often a symptom of depression, but because focus is a sign of a healthy brain, when a person cannot concentrate, it’s a good indication that the brain is not well.
- Low Energy – Physical fatigue is also a sign of poor brain function, in addition to being a sign of mental illness. Having low energy indicates that there are parts of the brain and body that are not functioning as they should.
- Poor Judgment – Perhaps this is already apparent since the immediate effect of alcohol and drug use is poor judgment, which is the cause of many alcohol-related accidents. However, poor judgment can also be a long-term effect of continued use and addiction.
- Chronic insomnia – Getting at least seven hours of sleep at night supports overall blood flow to the brain as well as healthy cognitive functioning.
The above list are signs that the brain’s functioning is being compromised. Although there are many factors that could contribute to the brain’s ill health, there’s no question that drug use and drinking is one of them.
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