Healing the Brain: Drug’s Effects on the Brain Results in a Need for Long-Term Recovery
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Healing the Brain: Drug’s Effects on the Brain Results in a Need for Long-Term Recovery

Updated: Dec 4, 2019

Ever wonder why individuals struggling with drug or alcohol addiction have such irrational behavior and make such poor choices? Below you will find a quick look at the science behind addiction, how drugs effect the brain and how long-term recovery is an effective solution.

The Brain

The brain is the central main-frame computer for the entire body. The brain operates our organs, decisions, thoughts and ideas. The brain is constantly active and performing. Even if our body is healthy, without our brain we cannot function. As you can imagine, adding a variety of drugs, chemicals, and substances influences how our brain operates.

Sending Signals

The brain works by sending signals called neurotransmitters from neuron to neuron separated by synapses. These neurotransmitters transmit data throughout the body via the brain, the spine, and the rest of the nervous system. This process allows the body to function and proper chemicals to be released throughout the body.

Drugs have two effects on the sending and receiving of signals in the brain. Some drugs imitate the signals, the neurotransmitters, and cause the brain to release chemicals into the body. Other drugs attach to the brain and cause the brain to send out neurotransmitters that then cause a chemical reaction in the body. These reactions are what cause the effects of drugs in the body.

Reward Me

The signals sent and the chemicals released cause the body to feel good and give positive reinforcement towards whatever caused the feeling. This encourages to you to repeat that action. This cycle, called the reward system, is a term used to indicate the positive feelings that are received through chemical reactions that the brain releases after positive action. This works by signaling the brain to release chemicals that cause comforting and happy feelings throughout the body. In the case with food, if you have not eaten, your brain signals you that you are hungry. When you appease that hunger, the brain rewards you by releasing serotonin, endorphins, and dopamine; two chemicals that cause good feeling and reinforce that the action you just performed was good. This ensures that people will seek out activities needed for survival, such as eating.

Mixed Signals

Like food, certain drugs, such as opiates and THC, mimic the neurotransmitter (the signal), attaching itself to the brains neuron and sending abnormal messages throughout the nervous system. Other drugs; like methamphetamine, Adderall, or cocaine; react with the actual neurons which then result in neurotransmitters being sent throughout the body, disrupting normal communication throughout the nervous system. This effects the reward system, causing the brain to register this drug as a positive action, and the longer this takes place the more the brain reinforces this process causing addiction. The body becomes physically dependent on this interaction with the drug. When the drug molecule is depleted, the brain will send out signals of depletion and need. This causes the person to crave more of the substance.

Drug's Effects on the Brain

Imagine this; you have not eaten for 12 hours, and your body has become very hungry. Your brain sends out signals that it is time to eat. Most people crave the food. You then eat a delicious meal from your favorite restaurant. Your brain will then reward your efforts by releasing the similar chemicals into your body, causing feelings of satisfaction. Now imagine that feeling times 10 to 100 in intensity. That is the euphoria received from substances like stimulants, opiates, meth, heroin, even alcohol, and many other illicit substances, each having their various adverse reactions in addition to euphoria. After prolonged use of the substance, the brain becomes more and more physically dependent on that substance, causing it to stop naturally producing the chemical necessary for normal brain function.

As the body becomes more tolerant to the substance and the drug has less of an impact on the brain, it takes more of the drug to produce the similar feeling.

Downward Spiral

The cravings caused by the brain’s depletion of the drug become so intense that the person will turn to irrational means to obtain this substance. There becomes a longing so deep for this drug that all other priorities fall to the wayside. The brain has been manipulated in a way by this imbalance of chemicals that the person will turn to crime and any means necessary to obtain this substance. What may seem irrational to outside sources, seems perfectly normal to the addict, because their brain has indicated to the user that this substance is a necessary need for survival. Other priorities like family, friends, employment, health, and future goals; drift to the wayside, being overshadowed by this intense craving to the drug or the alcohol. The individual is now addicted, and the computer mainframe, the brain, has now uploaded a virus that will destroy everything and cause that person to become something they never intended to be.

The drug has tricked them and trapped them. They are addicted. As the losses caused from the addiction increase, their emotional health will decline. The mind then convinces them to reach deeper into this addictive behavior, further and further into the darkness. The drug and the effects of the drug destroy the body, mind and spirit. Most people lose all hope of ever being free from the longing and need of this substance or this lifestyle.

Healing: Mind, Body, Spirit

A study by The Journal of Neuroscience showed that after 14 months of sobriety, methamphetamine users’ dopamine transporters began to reflect normal brain function. After drug addiction, when an individual finds sobriety, their brain immediately begins to heal. After several months, they feel much more hopeful and optimistic. For someone to return to normal function, the time is closer to a year or longer, depending on the amount and length of the drugs addiction.

Because of this reason, among many others, we have found that long-term recovery of a year or longer should be considered most effective for prolonged sobriety.

Along with the physical healing of the mind and the body, there is a great need for healing in the spirit of the addict. With prolonged addiction comes much misery, despair and darkness. Like your physical body, your spirit requires much time to heal, potentially longer than that of the physical. Based on this reasoning as well as various studies, we have found a great necessity for a comprehensive, faith-based program.

At Adult & Teen Challenge of Oklahoma, we are a long-term (minimum 12 months), faith-based, recovery program with a 31-year history of bringing hope to youth and adults with life controlling problems. We have programs for men, women, boys and girls. Studies have consistently shown that Adult & Teen Challenge programs have one of the highest, if not the highest rates of success in the world, helping the addict or alcoholic find lasting sobriety. In 2019, an Evangel University study found that 78% of our graduates remain sober and substance free post-graduation. Our program is centered around a spiritual emphasis on Christian, Biblical teachings, which deals with the addiction and the root cause of a person’s issues. This allows a person to leave the life of addiction and substance abuse behind them both spiritually and physically. Unlike many costly, inpatient rehabilitation programs, Adult & Teen Challenge will not be a financial burden for you or your family.

If you or someone you know is struggling with drug addiction, alcoholism or other life controlling issues, we are here to help. Please contact us at 405-600-1920 or go to www.okteenchallenge.org to find out more.

Learn more about the opiate epidemic.

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