Effects of Drug and Alcohol Addiction on the Brain
An Alarming Effects of Drug and Alcohol Addiction
The effects of drug and alcohol addiction on the brain are still being studied, but with each new finding, it becomes more and more evident that there are both short-term and long-term effects of abusing these substances. In short, the processes within the human brain that provide euphoria and compulsion for the use of drugs and alcohol are at risk the longer substances are used and abused.
Here is a snapshot of how drug and alcohol addiction can damage the brain, both in the short and long terms, and why getting immediate help is the best option for anyone abusing addictive substances.
If you or a loved one find yourself struggling with alcohol addiction, call Lumiere Healing Centers today to find out how you can get back on your feet with the support of a community that cares.
The Basic Science of Drug and Alcohol Addiction
The specific chemical processes that occur in the brain vary between different substances when you look at the fine detail, but the general science is fairly simple: when someone starts elevating their use of an addictive substance, it activates the brain’s pleasure centers artificially, a sort of “hijacking” of the nervous system.
Withdrawal is caused from the brain’s inability to produce certain substances on its own after long-term reliance on drugs to do the job for it, leading to many different ill effects, depending on the substance in question.
For the purpose of explaining what happens to the brain over the short and long terms, we’ll separate the following sections into different common classes of substances.
Short and Long-Term Brain Damage from Alcohol Addiction
Although there is no significant damage caused by drinking a normal amount over a long period of time, addicts typically belong to a community called “binge drinkers”, i.e. those who drink more than 6-8 drinks per day. A study published in the Journal of Alcohol and Alcoholism shows reason to believe that only a few instances of heavy drinking can make it harder to stay focused and make good decisions.
With those with alcohol addiction, these instances become more and more frequent and sustained binge drinking can severely damage the brain. While short-term (6 months of active addiction) issues include poor decision making and a short attention span, long-term issues (5 years) include early onset dementia, permanent memory loss and more.
Short and Long-Term Damage from Opioids
Opioids, the class of drugs containing fentanyl and heroin, as well as common prescription drugs including oxycodone and hydrocodone have recently been exposed as some of the most addictive drugs on the market and are responsible for more overdoses in the U.S. than any other class of drugs.
Though long-term effects of heroin are not yet well understood — sadly, many heroin addicts die before they can reach the long-term addiction status — a 5-year opioid abuser will already start to reap the harm that opioids can produce.
Since synthetic opioids hijack the brain’s opioid receptors and rewire the risk/reward centers of the brain, the brain starts to function less and less efficiently. This can cause swelling of the brain, producing dementia that resembles Alzheimer’s Disorder as well as organ damage from low oxygen intake. Because these drugs dull the brain as they are used more and more heavily, more of the substance must be used to get the same feeling, increasing the risk of overdose with each subsequent use.
Short term effects of opioids include frequent memory loss, loss in clarity of thought and increased risk of stroke.
Short and Long-Term Brain Damage from Stimulants
Stimulants are a widely used class of drug that includes MDMA, Ecstacy, amphetamines and cocaine. Studies have shown these drugs to have some of the highest levels of neurotoxicity among all abused substances, which means that harm to the brain may happen quicker than with any other drug.
Studies using PET Scans on cocaine users have shown as much: at the beginning of cocaine use, scans show significant synapse firing (positive brain activity). Once the addict uses the drug for a period of time, the scan shows almost no normal brain function, which is to be expected. After 10 days of non-use, however, the brain hasn’t recovered very much at all, and after 100 days of non-use the scans show only a marginal percentage of the healthy synapse response.
This is the basic idea of neurotoxicity: short-term effects of addiction produce marginal downgrades in brain function, but over a long period of time, the brain can no longer function at full strength, and even after 5 years of non-use it remains forever harmed by the use of these drugs.
How Can We Combat Brain Damage From Alcohol Addiction?
It’s clear that addiction to drug and alcohol addiction can have extremely long-lasting, if not permanent damaging effects on the brain. This is why it’s vitally important for addicts of any substance to seek treatment as soon as possible, to stem the progress of brain damage from drug and alcohol addiction before it’s too late.
If you or a loved one find yourself fighting a battle against drug and alcohol addiction, contact Lumiere Healing Centers. With our proven process of inpatient therapy including medical detox, substance counseling and patient-focused treatment, we can help you onto a path towards lifelong recovery.