Your Brain on Drugs

The Effects of Drugs on the Brain

We understand. Life is difficult, scary, and there is no manual to help you through it. Many people turn to drugs as a release, but the effects of drugs on the brain can make this a dangerous choice.

Whether you were brought up in a home where drug use was the norm or life took you in a strange direction, you don't have to remain on the same dangerous path.

There are always choices.

Logically, you may know you shouldn't be hurting your body, but the addicted brain makes it hard to follow through with changes.

We're here to help. It will take time and you may not find the journey easy, but there is a brighter future at the end.

Let's begin with a lesson on what's happening in your body. Understanding a monster is the first step to slaying it.

The Effects of Drugs on the Brain

Most drugs are made through the use of synthetic chemicals. They're brought into the body in a variety of ways such as orally, injected, and inhalation. From there they communicate with the brain and provide the immediate effects they're notorious for.

How drugs affect the brain depends on what drug is taken, but there are two typical ways that your brain can be changed. Overstimulating the reward center and imitating natural chemical components of the brain.

Your reward system, also known as the mesolimbic pathway, is particularly important and has helped humans survive for generations. You receive a boost of dopamine for important activities such as eating, drinking (water!), and having sex (reproducing).

It's a good feeling.

Drugs recreate this sensation and send out dopamine in the same way, only without any actual 'reward' that helps ensure your survival. Instead, the addicted brain will see this action as a reward, worthy of their attention and your survival.

The effects of drugs on the brain will have you go back for more time and time again in an effort to 'survive'.

It's no wonder it's so hard to break the habit.

What drugs do to your brain when they replace natural chemical components can be just as damaging.

By imitating natural chemicals drugs can disrupt these routine systems in your body through repeated use. Drugs can affect such things as your sleep schedule, heart rate, and even your breathing not to mention changes to the addicted brain in the processing center.

Depending on the drug, you may find it impossible to function without its use as your brain now uses it for problem-solving and planning.

Once the natural chemicals and transmitters your body creates are replaced you'll experience a 'low' or withdrawal whenever you're not taking the same drug. In an effort to live your life more is taken just to feel normal and the cycle continues.

This is one of the reasons the withdrawal process is so difficult, your body essentially has to 'reboot' and remember how to provide for itself. But you'll be much healthier once it does.

In the case of some drugs, the problem may come from acclimation. As the drug is used it doesn't function as strongly as it once had, or the effects may be gone completely. In order to get the same pleasure, more has to be used.

Sometimes up to dangerous amounts.

No matter how you've become addicted, there are ways to help return you to normal.

Pick Your Poison

There are seven main types of drugs and drug effects on the brain vary for each. Not all trigger an addiction outright, but they all have the ability to become addictive to the right person. Some are simply more dangerous than others.

It's time to learn a bit about how particular drugs affect the brain.


Stimulants, or uppers, affect your body's central nervous system. These drugs create a sensation of speeding up, being more aware, more focused, and more awake.

In doing this a stimulant is increasing a few functions of your body including blood pressure, breathing, heart rate, and blood glucose.

Not all stimulants are illegal. Many doctors prescribe these drugs to help patients with ADHD, which leads to easy abuse in schools. Adderall and Ritalin are particular offenders in this category as one patient's prescription can be sold off to others.

This is illegal, but because these medications are prescribed many people consider them to be safe. Yes, they are safe in the correct dosage for the correct patient with the correct use. You should never assume that an orange bottle means a drug is safe.

A few common stimulants include:

  • Adderall
  • Ritalin
  • Cocaine
  • Methamphetamine
  • Caffeine
  • Ecstasy

Yes, coffee is a drug, but a relatively safe drug. That said, coffee is also incredibly addictive (ever try going without your morning cup of joe?) and can even create withdrawal symptoms. However, it would take a lot of coffee over a short period to overdose on caffeine.

Your body can suffer a variety of consequences through the use of stimulants. Anxiety and paranoia are extremely common along with psychosis and depression.

Additionally, you can experience physical symptoms such as high body temperature, heart failure, stroke, and seizures.

This does not mean that these drugs can not be used safely when prescribed, but they need to be taken under a doctor's care. Of course, cocaine, methamphetamine, and ecstasy are illegal and should be avoided, even if someone stuffs it in an orange bottle.


Essentially the opposite of stimulants, depressants also affect the body's central nervous system. Called 'downers' for the effect of slowing down and relaxing a person there are prescribed versions in this category as well.

You'll find most drugs have a safe, reliable, doctor described variety. That doesn't mean it can't be abused.

Prescribed to patients with illnesses such as insomnia, OCD, and anxiety they can be an important part of maintaining a normal life. They can also be appealing to others for their sedative experience.

One form of depressant, in particular, Rohypnol, can be abused in another way. Most commonly known as a roofie, it's considered the date rape drug.

A list of common depressants include:

  • Xanax
  • Valium
  • Barbituates
  • Rohypnol

Alcohol can also be known as a depressant and can lead to addiction. It creates a burst of energy followed by a relaxed feeling. Tabacco has much the same effect, acting as a stimulant and depressant as it is processed by your body.


Inhalants are a common choice for younger abusers as they include common household items. In using an inhalant through a process called 'huffing' a brief sensation of euphoria is created.

This form of drug abuse has a high risk of physical damage such as loss of smell, nosebleeds, and even suffocation should a person huff something that can coat their lungs.

Additionally, the drug effects on the brain include hallucinations, slurred speech, and brain damage. A user is also at risk for loss of consciousness, weakness, and an increased heart rate.

It is difficult to stay away from inhalants as they're so common, including some of the following:

  • Nitrous oxide
  • Aerosol sprays
  • Markers
  • Paint thinner
  • Glue
  • Gasoline


Also known as opioids, narcotics are highly addictive and include the most commonly abused legal drug, Oxycontin. If you've wondered where the opioid epidemic began, this is it.

Available in both natural, derived from the poppy plant, and manufactured forms there is a wide variety of narcotics on the street.

  • Heroin
  • Morphine
  • Opium
  • Oxycontin
  • Percocet
  • Hydrocodone
  • Codeine

Narcotics can be taken in many ways. Smoked, injected, pills, and eaten; just because a drug isn't being injected doesn't mean it isn't still an opioid.

These drugs, in the prescribed form, are commonly used to reduce pain and can also create euphoria. You may have even taken a narcotic in the past if you've had major surgery.

At one point these drugs were believed to be non-addictive and handed out freely, accidentally creating a generation with easy access and high addiction rates.

Overuse of opioids can cause liver and brain damage, constipation, nausea, dehydration, and even cardiac arrest.

It's important to have assistance available when you will be experiencing withdrawal from narcotics. The process can last a long time and be particularly difficult.


Through the use of hallucinogens, a person can experience visions of things that are not really there. These hallucinations can vary from mundane to nightmarish and can often feel real to the user.

Perception and emotions will rapidly shift, causing a person to act in ways they wouldn't otherwise.

Hallucinogens work by affecting neurotransmitters in the brain such as serotonin and glutamate. However, the exact mechanics are not fully known.

There are many different types of hallucinogens and some types, such as Peyote, have spiritual or religious ties.

  • Peyote
  • LSD
  • Psilocybin
  • Salvia

Risks include fear, anxiety, paranoia, psychosis, nausea, increased blood pressure, and others. Long-term use can have additional risks such as speech problems and memory loss.

Hallucinogens are also known for 'flashbacks,' recurrences of a certain drug experience that can occur even years later.


The use of a dissociative causes the sensation of a person being outside of their body. These drugs can cause a feeling of invincibility and, under the influence, can cause a person to engage in risky behaviors. Some users can also experience hallucinations.

The addicted brain is effected in a few areas including the perception of pain, cognition, and emotions. This is caused by altering the neurotransmitter process and, through repeated use, it is possible to disrupt this natural chemical balance.

A few types of dissociatives exist and can be taken as liquids, powders, solids and even gases.

  • Ketamine
  • PCP (phencyclidine)
  • DXM (Dextromethorphan)

The long-term effects of dissociative abuse are almost solely focused on brain function.

Suicidal thoughts, hallucinations, anxiety, depression, memory loss and more. You may also experience speech difficulties and numbness.


Cannabis, also known as marijuana, bud, weed, Mary Jane, and many more is a controversial subject.

Marijuana has shown to be extremely useful in the treatment of many medical disorders including seizures, nausea, cancer, Crohn's and more.

Cannabis has no deaths to its name and, depending on the strain, can cause a variety of effects ranging from relaxation, euphoria, drowsiness, increased focus, loss of focus, and more.

Because the drug effects on the brain are minor for marijuana, many people underestimate it. Taking too much, too fast, can easily send you to the hospital.

Overall, when used correctly, marijuana is not a dangerous drug. That does not mean it cannot be abused. For a person with an addictive personality, cannabis is just as much a risk as any other drug.

Cannabis comes in many forms and can also be mixed into food.

  • Marijuana leaves
  • Cannabis-based medicine
  • Hashish
  • Hash oil

The same as other drugs, marijuana can affect your health if abused.

Long-term abuse can cause respiratory problems, cardiovascular risks, and a decline in mental functions such as memory and motivation. Evidence suggests that using marijuana during pregnancy can pose a risk to the development of the fetus.

What to Do

Finding a qualified rehab center is the best step you can make. It's not always easy.

If you're having trouble, reach out to friends, family, even teachers to find support. If you're honest and driven toward changing the good people in your life will band together to support you.

We know this isn't always possible. If you don't have a personal support center, you will find help in community programs.

Above all, you need to confront yourself. Decide with an open mind and determination that you're ready for a change.

You can do it.

Help Is Available

You aren't alone and you never were.

The effects of drugs on the brain are terrifying and it may be difficult to feel like yourself or to feel prepared for anything at all. That's fine. You're allowed to take your time.

We all have good times and bad and we're all capable of change.

If you're not ready yet, that's fine. Keep reading and keep learning, we'll be here waiting to help.

If you are ready, congratulations, you've taken the first step. Let us help connect you with the perfect program. Before you know it, you'll be an inspiring story for others.