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How does drug addiction affect the brain

What does Drug Addiction do to the Brain?

What Drug Addiction Does to the Brain

Have you ever wondered what drugs specifically do to your brain? In this blog post, we’ll explore the science behind drug addiction and shed light on how substances hijack your brain’s reward system and alter its functioning. We will discuss neurology and how drugs can take a toll on your mind.

Dopamine: The Feel-Good Neurotransmitter

To understand what drug addiction does to the brain we need to understand Dopamine. This is a neurotransmitter that plays a crucial role in pleasure, motivation, and reinforcement. When drugs are consumed, they trigger the release of dopamine leading to intense feelings of euphoria and pleasure.

With prolonged drug use, your brain’s reward circuitry undergoes significant changes. Neural pathways associated with drug-seeking behaviour become stronger, while those connected to self-control and decision-making weaken. This rewiring reinforces addictive behaviours and makes it harder to resist drug cravings.

Neuroplasticity: Your Brain’s Ability to Adapt

Your brain can adapt and re-organise itself based on experiences, this is a quality called neuroplasticity. With pro-longed drug use, there are neuroplastic changes which are re-wiring the neural pathways of the brain.

The rewiring of neural pathway worsens drug cravings. As the drug use continues, the connections associated with drug-seeking behaviour strengthen, while those responsible for decision-making and self-control weaken. This reinforces the cycle of addiction and intensifies the desire for drugs.

The Dopamine Rollercoaster

What chronic drug use does to the brain is disrupting the delicate balance of dopamine. This causes your brain to adapt to the imbalance by reducing its natural dopamine productions. The brain lowers the number of dopamine receptors and weakens the sensitivity of the receptors left over. Overall, this change reduces your ability to feel pleasure from natural means therefore increasing your reliance on the drugs to compensate. 

By this dysregulation of dopamine, the brain is developing a tolerance to the drugs. This means over time, larger doses are required for the same sensation of pleasure. The tolerance can cause escalation of the drug use to find that initial high from before the dopamine imbalance pre-drug use.

Altering Neurotransmitter Systems

In addition to dopamine another neurotransmitter that affects the brain is serotonin. The neurotransmitter serotonin is responsible for mood regulation. The drug addiction causes lowered levels, which in turn cause depressive and anxious symptoms amongst increased impulsivity. The combination of these symptoms means that further drug use is likely therefore perpetuates the cycle of addition.

Another neurotransmitter involved is Glutamate which is based in learning and memory. Through pro-longed drug use, the glutamate signalling is disrupted. This disruption aids in the formation of drug-associated memories or lessened ability to resist further drug use due to intense cravings.

Cognitive Impairments and Emotional Challenges

Drug addiction impairs various cognitive functions, such as memory, attention, decision-making, and impulse control. These deficits are linked to changes in the prefrontal cortex, the brain region responsible for executive functions. Prolonged drug use weakens the prefrontal cortex’s control over impulsive behaviours, making it harder to resist drug cravings and make rational decisions.

The dysregulation of neurotransmitter systems, particularly dopamine and serotonin, leads to emotional instability. Mood swings, heightened stress sensitivity, and an increased risk of mental health disorders are common consequences. These emotional challenges make the recovery process more complicated and increase the likelihood of relapse.


Understanding how drug addiction impacts the brain is essential for comprehending its profound neurological affects. By learning how drugs hijack your brain’s reward system, disrupt neurotransmitter systems, alter neural connections, impair cognition, and contribute to emotional instability, you gain insight into the complex nature of addiction. Armed with this knowledge, we can develop targeted interventions and therapies that address the specific neurological changes associated with drug addiction. Together, we can pave the way for effective strategies to combat drug addiction and support long-lasting recovery.

For further information on substance misuse, we offer face to face or virtual training which you can contact us to book. In addition to this, we also provide a comprehensive E-Learning course which you can sign up for here.

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