The Short and Long Term Effects of Drug Abuse on the Brain

Do You Know The Short and Long Term Effects of Drug Abuse on the Brain?


Drug abuse tremendously affects body organs, the most important of which is the brain. As the central possessing system of the body, damage caused by drugs has far-reaching consequences. Let’s delve into the short and long term effects of drug abuse on the brain.

The effects of drugs on the brain depend on a variety of factors, for example, the substance used, length of time, age of first use, pre-existing medical conditions, and genetics. It is also important to note that individual may abuse poly-substances. Therefore, the effects of different drug combinations on the brain may amplify the resultant damage.

How Does the Brain Works

Understanding how the brain works in its normal state provides a basis for clarifying what happens when abnormalities occur.

The brain consists of cells called neurons that send signals called neurotransmitters to different parts of the brain.

The neurotransmitters connect to different receptors, which produce various functions depending on the type of neurotransmitters and the area activated.

The brain recycles the neurotransmitters to store for future use.

Drugs abnormally increase neurotransmitters that contribute to the sense of euphoria.

Dopamine was previously thought to produce euphoria. However, modern research proposes it is involved in reinforcing regular drug use.

Drug Abuse Effects on the Brain

Drugs affect the brain in many different ways. Opiates mimic natural neurotransmitters and attach to receptors in the brain. Yet, they produce abnormal results.

Stimulants, on the other hand,  like cocaine and methamphetamine cause abnormal amounts of neurotransmitters to be released. Furthermore, methamphetamine affects the recycling of neurotransmitters.

To get a better understanding of the effects of drugs on the brain, we’ll look at several drugs and their short term and long term consequences on the brain.

Alcohol Effects on the Brain

Alcohol damages the brain directly as a toxin. It also binds to receptors, changing the brain structure and function. Additionally, a lack of nutrients from prolonged alcohol use (thiamine deficiency) and traumatic brain damage as a result of alcohol use (falls and motor vehicle accidents) can cause brain injuries.

Short Term Effects of Alcohol on the Brain may include:

  • Difficulty walking
  • Blurred Vision
  • Slurred speech
  • Slowed reaction times
  • Impaired memory
  • Black-outs
  • Decreased inhibition
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Alcohol-Related Psychosis

Long Term Effects of Alcohol on the Brain may consist of:

  • Structural brain changes, atrophy
  • Memory problems
  • Cognitive Impairments
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Alcohol-related psychosis

Excessive alcohol consumption can cause thiamine (Vitamin B1) deficiency. Thiamine is involved in providing nourishment to the brain.

A neurological condition known as Wernicke–Korsakoff syndrome arises from thiamine deficiency due to alcohol use. The symptoms associated with Wernicke include confusion, difficulty coordinating walking (ataxia), and weak eye muscles (ophthalmoplegia). Korskoff is a later symptom of confusion, memory problems, and psychosis. Alcohol cessation is paramount in treating this condition and treating those affected with high doses of thiamine.

Alcohol may also cause damage to the liver, alcohol hepatitis. As the liver is essential in clearing the body of toxins, the increase in toxins from liver damages negatively affects brain function.

Heroin Effects on the Brain

Heroin mimics natural neurotransmitters. It binds to receptors in the brain that are involved in pain modulation and the sensation of pleasure.  Additionally, heroin increases dopamine, that reinforces drug use. Heroin slows respiration, which decreases blood oxygen flow to the brain. This decrease in blood oxygen damages areas of the brain and can cause coma or even death.

Short Term Effects of Heroin Abuse

Heroin can cause slow breathing and mental cloudiness.

Long Term Effects of Heroin Abuse

Prolonged use of heroin can cause changes to the brain structure and function from the decrease in oxygen.

These structural changes may cause problems with executive planning and mood problems.

Cocaine Effects on the Brain

Cocaine increases the amount of dopamine in the body by decreasing the recycling of dopamine. It also affects blood vessels in the body, which may reduce the flow of oxygen to the brain.

Short term Effects of Cocaine on the Brain

  • Violent behavior
  • Paranoia
  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Headaches
  • Seizures
  • Strokes
  • Coma

Long Term Effects of Cocaine Use on the Brain

Long term cocaine can create long-lasting neurological changes. Cocaine use has been demonstrated to change nerve cells, which may play a role in continued cravings long after drug use has stopped. The risks of strokes and seizures are increased with prolonged cocaine use. In addition, prolonged cocaine use affects memory, attention, and impulse control.

The brain is an essential organ that can sustain severe, negative consequences from drug use. If you know you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, help is available.

For Help with mental health and substance abuse 24/7 help is available:

SAMHSA 1-800-662-HELP (4357)

Text  HOME to 741741 to speak to a crisis counselor.



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