When people think about drug abuse, they often think about how drugs change cells inside the body. They focus on track marks or skin issues or tissue death. They often think about the exterior physical damage. But the real damage drugs can do may not be visible at all. That’s because drugs can do a great deal of damage to the cells found inside the brain.
All About Dopamine
Brain cells use a chemical known as dopamine to transmit a signal of pleasure and reward. Anything pleasurable can deliver that dopamine boost, but drugs of abuse are particularly adept at causing a dopamine surge. In fact, the National Institute on Drug Abuse says drugs of abuse can release two to 10 times the amount of dopamine that a natural event might trigger.
When brain cells sense dopamine, they believe that they’re encountering something that’s so good and beneficial that it should be repeated as soon as possible. In essence, according to Harvard, that boosted signal tells brain cells to repeat the action, and that’s a call that’s almost impossible to ignore.
From the first moment that a user feels a dopamine surge, the brain is asking the body to hit that signal again. For some people, that can lead to binging behavior. They take drugs, they feel a surge, the drugs wear off, and they repeat the entire process. They seem compelled to do so.
But each and every hit leaves a bit of damage behind, and that damage can work to lock an addiction in place. As research from the University of Utah points out, brain cells flooded by dopamine can burn out and turn inward, so they’re much less responsive to the high that dopamine can bring. Each hit of drugs seems to do less and less to bring a person euphoria. But, even so, as those cells become less attuned to dopamine, life’s natural pleasures seem less rewarding. The only way people feel that they can get even a modicum of relief is to take drugs. Their brain cells seem to need it.
Attending to the Damage
The steps that cause brain damage from addiction can be reversed. In other words, with time and therapy, people can teach their brain cells to function normally, even in the absence of drugs.
Medications can jumpstart the process, particularly for people addicted to these drugs:
- Prescription painkillers
Medication therapy can help to replace some of the lost chemicals caused by drugs, and they can help to soothe detox distress. But medications aren’t the only solutions available. With therapy, people can learn to identify and push through cravings for drugs, and in time, their brain cells can return to a normal level of functioning. It’s a natural process, and while it takes time, it’s certainly doable.
If you’d like to help your brain cells to recover from the damage drugs can cause, we can help. Call the number at the bottom of the page to find out more about the treatment options open to you. Learn more about how detox, rehab and sober living work, and schedule an appointment for intake. It’s quick and easy to get started. Just call.