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How Do Drugs Affect the Brain?

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Addiction to drugs and alcohol impact the lives of millions of Americans every year. Drug use has a detrimental impact on the individual’s mind and body. How do drugs affect the brain? When a person uses drugs, the substance interacts with the brain. This interaction causes changes to people’s moods, behaviors, and emotions by impacting the way the brain’s chemistry works. 

How Do Drugs Affect the Brain?

Different classes of drugs interact with a person’s brain and body in different ways. These chemicals may speed up or slow down vital functions in the central nervous system, such as blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration. Not only is the body impacted by drug use, but mind-altering substances impact the brain’s neurotransmitters. This affects the release and reabsorption of dopamine, serotonin, and GABA.


Stimulants are a class of drug that speed up neurotransmitters and signals sent between the brain, the central nervous system, and the rest of the body. Some of the more commonly abused stimulants include:

  • Methamphetamines (meth)
  • Cocain
  • Prescription amphetamines, like Adderall
  • Ecstacy

As messages between the brain and CNS speed up, there’s an increase in heart rate and blood pressure. As the drugs circulate through the body, the individual may notice:

  • An increase in energy levels
  • Feeling hyper-alert
  • Overly excited
  • Lack of appetite
  • Decreased need for sleep

How do drugs affect the brain? Stimulants force the brain to increase the release of dopamine — a natural endorphin that stimulates pleasure and enjoyment. As a result, the brain slows down or stops releasing dopamine on its own, and is dependent on the drugs to help it function. When a person stops taking stimulants they may feel depressed, agitated, or anxious, because the brain isn’t releasing dopamine on its own, triggering a craving to use stimulants again.


Depressants are a class of drug that slows the responses between neurotransmitters in the brain and the central nervous system. Often these drugs will make a person feel “numbed out.” However, these drugs can also lower a person’s inhibitions, causing them make impulsive decisions or engage in risky behaviors. Some of the more commonly abused depressants include:

  • Alcohol
  • Benzodiazepines, like Xanax or Valium
  • GHB
  • Kava
  • Opioids, like heroin or Fentanyl

How do drugs affect the brain? Depressants stimulate an increase in GABA — a neurotransmitter in the brain that binds to neuroreceptors to slow down the central nervous system. Some depressants, like alcohol and opioids, also force the brain to release high levels of serotonin and dopamine, both “feel good” endorphins that bring about a euphoric state. Other effects of depressants on the body include:

  • Slowed heart rate
  • Low blood pressure
  • Lower respiration rate
  • Loss of motor control
  • Sleepiness
  • Problems focusing and concentrating

How Do Drugs Affect the Brain? Why You Need Residential Addiction Treatment

The effects of drugs on the brain, central nervous system, and neurotransmitters can make it difficult to stop using drugs on your own. Additionally, many addictive substances can cause severe withdrawal symptoms if you try to quit cold turkey. This is why it is absolutely critical that you seek help from qualified addiction treatment specialists to help you get clean and sober.

Addiction treatment specialists are specially trained to treat all types of addiction — from drugs to alcohol — and know how to develop treatment plans that will address your specific needs. They will look for things like:

  • What types of drugs were being abused
  • How often drugs were used
  • Were multiple substances being abused
  • Length of the addiction
  • Co-occuring mental health disorders
  • Physical health concerns

Detox in Orange County, CA

Often the first step in treatment is detox. This process helps remove drugs and alcohol from the body, returning it to a neutral state, and sets the groundwork for recovery. In a supervised detox, you will be monitored by specialists who will ensure that you are comfortable and safe while your body learns to adjust to not having drugs.

After you have detoxed, the next step is treatment. Depending on your needs there are a variety of options available:

  • Residential treatment — An immersive treatment where you will live on site and receive 24/7 access to counselors, treatment, and peer support. 
  • Intensive Outpatient (IOP) — IOPs are a good option for those who cannot or do not need a more intensive treatment option. You will attend treatment for several hours a day, 3-5 days a week, returning home at the end of the day.
  • Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) — Sometimes medication can help curb cravings and manage withdrawal symptoms. 

Drug Addiction Treatment in Orange County, CA

If you are worried about how drugs are affecting your brain and are abusing different types of stimulants and depressants, drug addiction treatment is available at Pacific Sands Recovery Center in Orange County, CA.

We offer a wide range of personalized treatment options to help you create an addiction treatment program to fit your specific needs and substance abuse problems. To learn more about our treatment programs, please feel free to contact us or call us at 949-426-7962 to speak with an intake specialist today! 

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    Andrew N.
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