Recovery from substances and alcohol encompasses all aspects of ourselves: Physical Health, Mental Health, and Spiritual Health. It is not about being sober, it is about making changes in how we think, how we process emotions, Recovery involves learning how-to and then living a life without the use of alcohol or drugs.

This is not easy-this is about the hardest journey you will ever embark on. For many of us, our addictions are tangled up with past and present traumas. There may be several types of drugs involved, combinations of with alcohol or alone. Physical limitations and pains, long and deep histories. Sometimes we won’t know how deep our past has its grip on us until after we have achieved a few weekends of sobriety, sometimes we are well aware of what brought us to our knees.

But regardless of what our paths were that joined us here, we start here- right where we are -our paths may soon change again in a different direction as our journeys progress, it will be important today, that you grasp this one truth- We are all here for the same reason – we are all different but in this one thing- addiction or alcoholism – and we all start at the beginning of tomorrow.

Below is a listing of the most commonly abused drugs, what they are and the effects they have on the body.  The boxes at the bottom of this page can direct you to further resources and supports.  All information is compiled through the national resources including NIDA,  SAMHSA, Medline Plus,  Mental Health and Substance Abuse.

Is Your Brain Hijacked by Drugs or Alcohol?

Alcohol and drug use disorders change our brain stability.  ASAM describes: “Addiction and alcoholism impacts brain chemistry and circuitry and results in compulsive drug-seeking and drug-using behaviors that interfere with daily functioning. A high level of drug dependency, co-occurring medical or mental health disorders, polydrug abuse, family history of addiction, high levels of stress, experience of trauma, and low level of support at home can all contribute to the onset of addiction” 

Drugs and Alcohol Change the Brain, Changes Everything

The brain regulates temperature, emotions, decision-making, breathing, and coordination. This major organ in the body also impacts physical sensations in the body, emotions, cravings, compulsions, and habits. Under the influence of a powerful, but harmful chemical, individuals abusing substances can alter the function of their brain.

Drugs interact with the limbic system in the brain to release strong feel-good emotions, affecting the individual’s body and mind. Our brains reward us when we do something that brings us pleasure. To illustrate, individuals continue taking drugs to support the intense feel-good emotions the brain releases, thus creating a cycle of drug use and intense highs. Eventually, they take the drug just to feel normal.

Your Brain on Drugs

Different drugs have very different effects. For example, the brain’s response to marijuana is much different than its response to cocaine or heroin.   Pleasure or euphoria—the high from drugs, involves surges of chemical signaling compounds including the body’s natural opioids (endorphins) and other neurotransmitters in parts of the basal ganglia (the reward circuit). When some drugs are taken, they can cause surges of these neurotransmitters much greater than the smaller bursts naturally produced in association with healthy rewards like eating, hearing or playing music, creative pursuits, or social interaction.

Your Brain on Drugs-continued

The feeling of pleasure is how a healthy brain identifies and reinforces beneficial behaviors, such as eating, socializing, and sex. Our brains are wired to increase the odds that we will repeat pleasurable activities. The neurotransmitter dopamine is central to this. Whenever the reward circuit is activated by a healthy, pleasurable experience, a burst of dopamine signals that something important is happening that needs to be remembered. This dopamine signal causes changes in neural connectivity that make it easier to repeat the activity again and again without thinking about it, leading to the formation of habits.

Just as drugs produce intense euphoria, they also produce much larger surges of dopamine, powerfully reinforcing the connection between consumption of the drug, the resulting pleasure, and all the external cues linked to the experience. Large surges of dopamine “teach” the brain to seek drugs at the expense of other, healthier goals and activities.

Why is Quitting So Hard

Addiction is a brain disease.  Alcohol and drug affect the chemical stability in our brain; change the chemical signals in our brain, making stopping use difficult and often painful.  Neurotransmitters play a crucial role in normal functioning of the brain and body, including: mood regulation, movement and coordination, appetite, autonomic functions of the central nervous system, the ability to think clearly and make sound decisions, stress levels, memory and learning, sexual desire, sensory perception, motivation, concentration levels, cognition, feelings of pleasure, and processing rewards.

Many neurotransmitters in the brain are affected by drug use, here is a breakdown of some of the major neurotransmitters affected:
• Dopamine— pleasure, rewards
• Serotonin— mood stabilizer, impacts mood, sexual desire, sleep, appetite levels
• Glutamate— increases neuron activity, involved in learning, memory, and cognitive function
• Gamma-aminobutyric acid— lowers stress and anxiety by slowing down heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature; acts like a natural tranquilizer
• Norepinephrine— similar to adrenaline (activates the fight-or-flight stress response), speeds up heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration; increases body temperature while impacting movement, anxiety levels, sleep, moods, appetite levels, memory functions, and sensory processing abilities
• Endorphins and endogenous opioid peptide system— naturally activate opioid receptors in the brain to slow central nervous system functions, impact mood, and have a sedative and analgesic (painkilling) effect
• Endogenous cannabinoids— natural system in the brain that impacts memory, cognitive functions, and movement
(American Addiction Centers).

 

 

Why Is Quitting So Hard continued

Psychotropic drugs affect the brain’s “reward” circuit. Normally, the reward circuit responds to healthy, pleasurable activities by releasing the neurotransmitter dopamine, which teaches other parts of the brain to repeat those activities. Drugs take control of this system, releasing large amounts of dopamine—first in response to the drug but later mainly in response to other cues associated with the drug—like being with people you used drugs with, or being in places where you used drugs. The brain remembers this feeling and sends out an intense motivation to seek and use the drug again. So dopamine does not cause the rush of feelings; instead it reinforces the desire to use drugs.

The brain of an addict or alcoholic adjusts by producing fewer neurotransmitters in the reward circuit, or by reducing the number of receptors that can receive signals.  As a result, the person’s ability to experience pleasure from naturally rewarding (i.e., reinforcing) activities is also reduced.  Without the drugs or alcohol, we feel physical and emotional pain, depression, and sadness.

Combined with these adverse feelings, we are also aware of what we have done, said, how we acted while under the influence or to get the drugs or alcohol.  Compound layers or guilt, shame and remorse, where all we want to do is forget or have a ‘do-over’ of our life, you have a difficult and seemingly insurmountable obstacle to overcome.

Neurotransmitters Affected by Drugs and Alcohol

Serotoninan inhibitory neurotransmitter:   works as a mood stabilizer and impacts mood, sexual desire, sleep, and appetite levels

  • Ecstasy (MDMA or Molly), Cocaine, PCP (phencyclidine)

Glutamatethe principle excitatory neurotransmitter:  increases neuron activity and is involved in learning, memory, and cognitive functions

  • Alcohol, Ketamine, PCP

Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA)an inhibitory neurotransmitter:   lowers stress and anxiety by slowing down heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature; acts as a natural tranquilizer

  • Benzodiazepines (Valium, Ativan, Xanax, etc.), Alcohol, Sedatives and tranquilizer
  • Barbiturates (Phenobarbital, Secobarbital, Amobarbital, etc.  Also known as Pink Ladies, Yellow Jackets, Amytal, and Nembies)

Neurotransmitters Affected by Drugs and Alcohol continued

Norepinephrinean excitatory neurotransmitter:  similar to adrenaline, activates the “fight-or-flight” stress response in the body; speeds up heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration, and increases body temperature while impacting movement,anxiety levels, sleep, moods, appetite levels, memory functions, and sensory processing abilities

  • Methamphetamine, Amphetamine, ADHD medications (Ritalin, Adderall, Concerta), Cocaine

Endorphins and endogenous opioidspeptides:   activates opioid receptors in the brain to slow central nervous system functions (including breathing rates), impact mood, and have a sedative and analgesic (painkilling) effect

  • Prescription opioid pain relievers (OxyContin, Vicodin, morphine, fentanyl, etc.), Heroin

Endogenous cannabinoidsnon-standard neurotransmitter:   interacts with CB1 cannabinoid receptors in the brain, impacting memory, cognitive functions, and movement

  • Marijuana, Spice (synthetic cannabinoids)

Dopamine-The Enforcer

Dopamine in our brains are wired to make sure we will repeat survival activities, like eating, by connecting those activities with feeling good. Whenever this reward circuit is kick-started, the brain notes that something important is happening that needs to be remembered, and teaches us to do it again and again, without thinking about it. Because drugs come in and “hijack” the same circuit, people learn to use drugs in the same way.

After repeated drug use, the brain starts to adjust to the surges of dopamine. Neurons may begin to reduce the number of dopamine receptors or simply make less dopamine. The result is less dopamine signaling in the brain—like turning down the volume on the dopamine signal. Because some drugs are toxic, some neurons also may die.

 

What is Anhedonia

As a result, the ability to feel pleasure is reduced. The person feels flat, lifeless, and depressed, and is unable to enjoy things that once brought pleasure. This is called Anhedonia.  Anhedonia is a disinterest in social contact and a lack of pleasure in social situations. Physical anhedonia is an inability to feel tactile pleasures such as eating, touching, or sex.

The symptoms of anhedonia include:

  • social withdrawal and difficulty adjusting to social situations
  • withdrawal from relationships
  • negative feelings toward yourself and others
  • reduced emotional abilities, including having less verbal or nonverbal expressions
  • a tendency toward showing fake emotions, such as pretending you’re happy at a wedding
  • a loss of libido or a lack of interest in physical intimacy
  • persistent physical problems, such as being sick often

Anhedonia is an often unspoken about and difficult to treat symptom in recovery, most commonly associated with methamphetamine, cocaine and opioids.

The Cyle of Addiction

Drugs of abuse and alcohol are called psychoactive drugs and have powerful effects on the brain.  These effects are create euphoric feelings and motivate increased use despite adverse consequences of use.  Often, use leads to addiction and alcoholism, and the cycle begins.

What are the Stages of Addiction?

Addiction and Alcoholism are considered a Disease, in that they follow a predictable and consistent path unless interrupted.  The disease of addiction has many initial causes, but is always consistent unless halted.

What is Treatment?

What is Treatment for Substance Use Disorders?

There are numerous factors to consider when deciding to enter into treatment for substance use disorders.  Deciding about a detoxification, in patient, residential, outpatient or co-occurring disorders facility is a difficult task.  Please follow this link for information about types of facilities, what is involved with admission, cost factors and more.

What is Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome?

Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome describes an onset of symptoms following initial withdrawal from drugs or alcohol.  The syndrome ranges in severity from mild to severe, is reflective of the type of drug used, and is impacted by numerous factors.  The syndrome does not affect everyone and does not affect everyone the same.  It can last anywhere from 2-4 weeks to 1-2 years.  

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