Waking Up to Sober Living: Your Brain on Drugs

Waking Up to Sober Living: Your Brain on Drugs | Transcend Recovery Community

Sometimes, we need to see what’s really going on around us in order to break through a barrier. Certainly, having a dependency on a drug is a prison no one wants to stay in for long, and sometimes learning the facts about how dangerous drugs really are can wake us up enough to finally acquire sober help.

One way to see the high risks involved with drugs and alcohol is to compare them to medication taken for psychological illnesses. Antidepressants, for example, work well because they adjust the chemicals in the brain. Antidepressants and other psychotropic medication affect the levels of dopamine and serotonin, which influence mood stability.

However, drugs are chemicals too. They also affect the brain’s ability to regulate mood, one’s perception of the environment, and the way the five senses function. Drugs interfere with the way the neurons in the brain communicate with each other. In fact, the brain is one large network of communication. There are billions of neurons and nerve cells that are forever taking in information and passing it along to other neurons. In order for one neuron to communicate with another, it creates a chemical, called neurotransmitters. As that neurotransmitter attaches to the part of the cell in the brain called the receptor, they operate like a key and lock. In this way, the brain makes sure that each receptor will receive the right kind of neurotransmitter. Once the neurotransmitters do their job, they are pulled back into their original neuron from which they came. When it returns, this process shuts off the messaging signal taking place between neurons.

However, when drugs are introduced into the brain, they affect the ability for neurons to communicate with one another. This is particularly dangerous because of the signaling and communication that is naturally happening in the brain. If the brain can continue to be plastic, that is if new neural connections can continue to form and if old ones can be released, this can support healthy brain function and mental health. These neural connections and adaptability are important in a person’s learning, behavior, and mood regulation.

However, some drugs, such as marijuana and heroin, will mimic a neurotransmitter and in a way “fool” a receptor. The drug will lock onto the receptors and activate the nerve cells. Because the drug is not the neurotransmitter that was 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.

Other drugs, such as cocaine can cause the release an excessive amount of a particular neurotransmitter. For instance, the rush of dopamine that cocaine releases when an individual chooses to ingest it is dangerous, leading to permanent alterations in the way the brain processes dopamine in the future. Studies at Yale University indicate that neurons in the brain and their synaptic connections change shape when first exposed to cocaine. The structural changes point out that that the neurons are attempting to protect themselves when the presence of cocaine enters the body.

Most drugs, however, activate the brain’s reward system, which is the key to addiction. This reward system can perpetuate the need for the drug until it becomes the sole focus of an individual’s life to the exclusion and detriment of other life-activities.

If an individual found themselves with a dependency to drugs, the incredible advantage of a sober living program is that they can help break down the reward system of the brain. A sober living program can provide a safe place to find sober help. In turn, no longer using a drug can help restore some of the damage that takes place between neurons in the brain. However, some damage can never be repaired.

Despite any irreparable damage done, addiction is treatable. And a men’s or women’s sober living program can facilitate transformation, healing, and long term sobriety.


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