How Do Drugs Affect Neurotransmitters?

Therapist explaining what drugs do to the brain's chemistry

Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers in the body. In fact, different transmitters influenced messages between neurons. Also, they may convey messages between neurons and muscles. How do drugs affect neurotransmitters? Different transmitters influence drug use. 

For example, drug consumption heavily influences dopamine and serotonin. Indeed, dopamine is involved with a person’s motor control, motivation, and “reward” system of reinforcement. On the other hand, serotonin regulates sleep, memory, appetite, and mood. 

At Lifetime Recovery, we understand how drug misuse causes negative effects on the brain. It is essential to comprehend the connection so that it is possible to begin recovery and to continue it in the long term.

How Do Drugs Affect Neurotransmitters Long-term?

Ultimately, certain drugs produce a feeling of euphoria in the brain. They cause surges of neurotransmitters that normally result from natural messages that the body receives from social interaction, eating, and other pleasurable activities. A surge of dopamine causes a euphoric sensation after taking drugs. 

Also, scientists have discovered that dopamine is responsible for making a person repeat pleasurable activities. In other words, it reinforces the idea that drugs must be taken to receive beneficial effects. Eventually, a habit results. In many ways, the surge of dopamine teaches the brain to seek drugs.

Daily Life Effects

Throughout a person’s daily life, environmental cues are linked to drug use. Alterations to the reward pathway trigger cravings when a person is exposed to these cues. Moreover, this “reflex” lasts for a long time. For example, a person who has enjoyed sobriety for many years still experiences cravings when returning to a certain place or has used drugs.

What Drugs Do to the Brain’s Chemistry

Of course, drugs are chemicals. As they enter a person’s body, they tamper with its communication system and the way that nerve cells process information. For example, some drugs imitate the brain’s natural chemical messages. On the other hand, others overstimulate the reward system.

Markedly, during the early stages of drug use, neurotransmitters normalize when intoxication wears off. However, repeated drug misuse causes changes in the neuronal structure that lead to permanent neurotransmitter abnormalities.

Drugs Can Affect Neurotransmitter Systems in Two Main Ways

Drugs can affect neurotransmitter systems in two main ways.

  • Alter the availability of neurotransmitters in the synapse, which is the space where messages are communicated
  • Acting directly on the receptors

Why Drugs are More Addictive Than Natural Rewards

drugs can affect neurotransmitter systems in two main waysNaturally, the brain receives reward signals in small doses. However, taking drugs amplifies the signals. In a person who misuses drugs, his or her brain adjusts by producing lower levels of neurotransmitters in the reward system. Also, there is a decrease in receptors that receive signals. As a result, a person is less able to experience pleasure from natural means.

Ultimately, a person who misuses repeated feeling a flatness. In other words, he or she feels depressed and has little motivation. Oftentimes, it is difficult to enjoy things that used to be pleasurable. The only way for this individual to feel normal is to keep taking drugs. This begins a vicious cycle of addiction. As a result, a person must consume more drugs to produce a “high” sensation.

How Drugs Affect the Brain

Particularly, drugs like marijuana and heroin have chemical makeups that copy natural neurotransmitters. Therefore, they can fool the body’s receptors, attach to them, and activate nerve cells. However, they work differently and send altered messages to the brain. In the end, this leads to noticeable problems.

On the other hand, drugs like cocaine and methamphetamines make nerve cells release excess amounts of dopamine. As a result, exaggerated messages reach the brain. Once again, problems are evident.

Certain drugs are toxic to neurons. Repeated exposure brings accumulated effects. For example, drugs like ecstasy damage specific neurotransmitters that release serotonin. As a result, memory problems occur in heavy users.

Scientific Research

In the past, scientists believed that the rush of dopamine caused extreme pleasure during drug use. However, new studies have revealed that it is more complicated. To repeat, drugs affect the brain’s reward system. A natural reward response ends with a release of dopamine. This teaches other parts of the brain to repeat activities. 

When drugs are involved, large amounts of dopamine are released. A person gets this response from actually taking the drug and from cues that are linked to the drug. The brain remembers this pleasure and sends messages to seek the drug over and over. Therefore, dopamine reinforces drug use and causes cravings for more.

Repeat Effect

The human brain is made to make sure that the body gets what it needs. For example, a person feels hungry so that proper nutrition results. An individual gets a good feeling when he or she is full. In turn, the brain remembers this positive feeling and is made to repeat the activity without cognitive action. In the same manner, an individual learns to repeatedly use drugs.

Addiction and Withdrawal

How Drugs Affect the BrainAs addiction occurs, the brain keeps a person on an emotional roller coaster. Once drug use stops, mental, physical, and emotional effects are felt. As a result, disturbing symptoms are experienced. In other words, withdrawal begins. For example, a person who quits heroin feels depressed and anxious and has cravings. This is due to the rewiring of the brain. Ultimately, a person needs professional treatment.

Lifetime Recovery Can Help You Recover From Drug Abuse

At Lifetime Recovery in Gloucester County, as addiction specialists, we are very knowledgeable about how drugs affect neurotransmitters in the brain. To help people suffering from drug addiction recover, we provide treatment programs and resources to teach you or a loved one, how to cope and manage their conditions, which leads to long-term recovery. 

We do our best to help individuals find healthy ways to deal with cravings and to deal with the damages that drugs cause to their brains. For more information, contact us today.

Treating mental health and trauma

Our behavioral health and substance abuse treatment experts also treat co-occurring disorders/dual diagnoses (including trauma), and we are one of the few alcohol and drug rehab centers offering gambling addiction treatment.