Effects of Drugs on The Brain: Drug Addiction and Cognitive Deterioration
Consuming drugs affects the brain’s limbic system. This brain structure is in charge of awarding the satisfaction of our vital needs with a pleasant sensation or pleasure (when we are hungry and we eat, we feel pleasure). When we consume drugs, we feel a similar sensation based off of artificial pleasure, which is what leads to the start of a drug addiction.
What is Drug Addiction?
We talk about addiction when someone has a psychological dependency on consuming a substance. This psychological dependency is linked to a physical dependency, as the body develops its own response to the consumption or absence of this substance in the organism.
Addictions are usually related to personal problems, like low self-esteem, depression, or mental disorders. However, brain chemistry can also be the cause of some addictions.
Drug addiction, like alcoholism or a sex addiction, involves neuronal circuits that are known as pleasure circuits. Drugs act through neuronal mechanisms used to activate our survival instinct. This is why there are some substances that can become a true necessity for some people.
When an addict consumes drugs like cocaine, they may experience the same feeling as when they satisfy a need like eating or having sex. This is understood to be the “high” that these drugs produce, which is based on dopamine, a neural transmitter that is activated when we receive a reward.
However, when pleasure caused by these substances dissipates, the user experiences effects like sweating, depression, anxiety, etc. To stop these bad feelings, the addict takes more drugs which ultimately leads to a vicious circle of coming down from a high and then taking more drugs to avoid the low that comes next.
Drug Addiction and Cognitive Deterioration
After seeing how much neural circuits are implicated in drug addiction, it’s obvious that consuming these substances causes cognitive damage. There are some drugs that cause more cognitive damage than others, like cocaine and ecstasy, which do damage more quickly and more aggressively. Those who are addicted to these substances have behavioral and psychiatric problems more often than other addicts.
Someone who has had a drug addiction may also present a decline in abstract reasoning and have a hard time when problem solving. They will show deficits in critical thinking and have trouble when reasoning to solve conflicts. A drug addict’s brain will never go back to how it was before.
The most effective rehabilitation programs have a mix of different therapies and services to meet the specific needs of each patient. These treatments usually combine behavioral therapy and pharmaceuticals like methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone, which are used to help the patient overcome the absence of the drug that they were addicted to. If the patient also has depression or another psychological disorder, they may used psychotic drugs like depressives or anxiolytics.
As far as therapies, they are usually focused on motivating the addicts to fight against their desire to take drugs. They are shown how to avoid these drugs and what to do in case of a relapse. Behavioral therapy may also help the patient rebuild personal relationships, which are often damaged by addiction.
Lastly, to counteract the effects of cognitive impairment caused by drug use, the patient should practice a cognitive stimulation program. The neurology specialists at CogniFit have designed a training program specifically aimed at exploring and detecting damaged cognitive functions. This clinically validated program is adjusted to the cognitive needs of each individual, stimulation the deficient functions and helping with recovery.
Molly is a writer specialized in health and psychology. She is passionate about neuroscience and how the brain works, and is constantly looking for new content from interesting sources. Molly is happy to give or take advice, and is always working to educate and inspire.
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