Drugs work by tapping into the brain’s communication system and changing the way cells process, receive and transmit information to other parts of the body. Some drugs activate neurotransmitters while others inhibit them; either way, abnormal messages are transmitted while the individual is under the influence and after the drugs have worn off. A few other ways that drugs can affect the brain and create long-term changes include:
. Pleasure pathway changes. Drugs trigger the brain’s reward system and create feelings euphoria
- Cravings. The body and the brain enjoy the feel-good effect of drugs. Over time, the individual can come to crave the “high” associated with drug abuse.
. Impaired brain function. Drug abuse alters the brain’s ability to experience pleasure and impairs brain functioning.
- Tolerance. Over time, the brain grows accustomed to the initial level of the chosen drug and requires more of it to enjoy the same experience.
- Lowers inhibitions. Under ordinary circumstances, the brain has limitations and boundaries; when drugs are present, those boundaries lift and inhabitations disappear
- Long-term changes. In the same way that the brain develops a tolerance to a particular drug, there are concurrent changes in the brain caused by getting high repeatedly. The brain has to be retrained to return to its old level of cognitive function; in some cases, the changes cannot be completely reversed.