Medical Consequences of Drug Use & Abuse

You may remember Newton’s Third Law of Motion from science class – “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” The brain follows this rule too. Taking a drug forces the body beyond its natural state by force-feeding chemicals that it often makes on its own. The brain, in an attempt to keep harmony, produces less of that chemical.

If the drug makes us feel joy, the brain will eventually produce less serotonin (the brain chemical responsible for feelings happiness) in response. If the drug calms us, the brain will produce fewer endorphins (the brain chemical responsible for feelings of calm and well being). When the drug leaves, one often finds himself in a state of mind opposite of the feeling the drug created.

The more often drugs enter the brain, the more the brain learns to alter production of the corresponding chemical. So when a frequent drug user is sober, she may be in a worse state of mind than her sober non-drug using peers. It may be more difficult for her to deal with her emotions, concentrate on her work or enjoy everyday life, even if there are no drugs in her system. In order to get the good feelings back, she may resort to more drugs, continuing the cycle.

Before you dive into the following pages, there are a few terms that it may be helpful to have an acquaintance with:

Neurotransmitter: the general term for a wide variety of chemicals made in the brain for the purpose of transmitting signals across communication pathways. Neurotransmitters are released from vessels (like a rocket launching into space!) and sent to adjoining brain receptors which, in turn, take in the neurotransmitter’s message and release other neurotransmitters to pass on the info.

Dopamine: a neurotransmitter released in the brain when it experiences a reward or a pleasure. Dopamine is responsible for the good feelings you get when you participate in your favorite activities or eat your favorite foods.

Serotonin: a neurotransmitter released in the brain to provide feelings of well-being and happiness. Serotonin isn’t so much about rewards for immediate behaviors as it’s about an overall good-feeling in life – like you may have after a day spent with a good friend or sitting in a hammock on a warm summer’s day.

Norepinephrine: a neurotransmitter most associated with concentration and cognitive alertness (paying attention). It’s also responsible for the “fight-or-flight” response to a threat.

Stimulant: A drug that causes extra amounts of neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain.

Depressant: A drug that slows the spread of neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain.

Click on the links below for more specific information on drug types, uses and consequences: 


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