Today, everyone’s nervous systems are constantly assaulted by chronic stress so many live under. Add on top a substance abuse problem, and our nervous systems need some serious TLC. To understand how substance abuse affects our nervous systems, first, it is helpful to understand some of the basics of the nervous system.
The nervous system is the vast network of nerves and cells that control the communication between the brain, spinal cord, and the rest of the body. The brain and spinal cord make up the central nervous system. All the nerves throughout the body outside of the brain and spinal cord make up the peripheral nervous system. Nerve cells within the central nervous system are referred to as “neurons” and the “neurotransmitters” are the chemical messengers that the brain uses to communicate between neurons and the rest of the body. The brain is like the control center of your body, and it is constantly sending electric signals to regulate your body’s systems and communicate with your body to determine how you feel.
- Altered neurotransmitter production – Because substance abuse results in large surges of dopamine released when you take your drug of choice, the body is constantly trying to seek balance. Over time the body learns to produce less dopamine on its own and replaces it with opposing neurotransmitters to dopamine. The body’s natural neurotransmitter balance becomes skewed through this rebalancing process and rewires your brain so that it becomes increasingly harder to experience feelings of pleasure. For example, for heavy heroin abusers, their brains become so rewired that their cognitive functioning becomes dependent on heroin use.
- Changes to the brain’s “reward” pathways – Continued substance abuse will change the reward pathways in the brain to make a person more likely to abuse a drug. Because dopamine is released when you take drugs, the reward pathway for that drug is strengthened to make you want to continue using since the body believes it to be a positive behavior. Structural changes to the brain in these pathways occur with time, cementing the addiction and making a person more likely to use and more resistant to quitting.
- Changes to brain connections and cells – Beyond the reward pathways being altered by drug and/or alcohol use, other pathways in the brain between neurons and brain cells change. Brain cells die from substance abuse since many drugs may be toxic, and this alters the entire brain’s functioning. Between the rewiring of pathways and loss of brain cells, it literally changes your memories. You then learn to crave drugs and/or alcohol from certain environments triggering the reflex in you for needing to use.
Substance abuse affects many of your body’s systems, but none more than the nervous system. Drug and/or alcohol abuse has long term consequences for your nervous system, particularly in your brain, and the changes are long-lasting. If you are ready to take your health into your hands and address your substance abuse problem, you can begin to repair the damage from drugs and alcohol with sufficient care. Contact Avalon Malibu, where you can find a comprehensive addiction recovery treatment tailored to your every need. We have a team of licensed professionals ready to guide and assist you through your recovery. Call us at (844) 857-5992 for a consultation today.