Understanding Brain Chemistry and How Substance Abuse Affects Personality and Behaviors

Posted by admin on June 6, 2017

Drug addiction is difficult to overcome.  But, casual drug use and drug addiction are not just a problem from an addiction standpoint, drug use can actually change the chemistry of the brain.  Because drugs are a chemical, they create a chemical dependency in the brain when used regularly.  As the chemicals in the brain change, so does personality and behavior.  Changes in personality and behavior can often be one of the first signs of drug addiction or dependency so knowing what to watch for is important.

To understand how drugs affect the brain and change personality and behavior, you have to first understand how the brain works.  The National Institute of Drug Abuse explains how the brain works and how drugs interfere with normal brain behavior, “The brain is a communications center consisting of billions of neurons, or nerve cells. Networks of neurons pass messages back and forth among different structures within the brain, the spinal cord, and nerves in the rest of the body (the peripheral nervous system). These nerve networks coordinate and regulate everything we feel, think, and do…Drugs are chemicals that affect the brain by tapping into its communication system and interfering with the way neurons normally send, receive, and process information. Some drugs, such as marijuana and heroin, can activate neurons because their chemical structure mimics that of a natural neurotransmitter. This similarity in structure “fools” receptors and allows the drugs to attach onto and activate the neurons. Although these drugs mimic the brain’s own chemicals, they don’t activate neurons in the same way as a natural neurotransmitter, and they lead to abnormal messages being transmitted through the network. Other drugs, such as amphetamine or cocaine, can cause the neurons to release abnormally large amounts of natural neurotransmitters or prevent the normal recycling of these brain chemicals. This disruption produces a greatly amplified message, ultimately disrupting communication channels.”

Different drugs can cause different reactions in the brain and thus create unique personality and behavior changes.  First, cocaine users often experience severe mood swings, erratic behavior, impulsivity, manic behaviors, high energy, aggression, and dishonest/secretive behavior.  Meth users tend to exhibit behaviors such as agitation and aggression, lack of empathy, depression, avoidance of others, impulsivity, and selfish behavior.  Marijuana users tend to behave irresponsibly, have difficulty with short-term memory, and may have symptoms of depression occasionally.  It can be very hard and frustrating to deal with a changed personality and strange behaviors in a loved one or friend.  But, if you believe someone you know is exhibiting these behaviors, it may be the sign of a drug addiction or dependency.  Fortunately, while those chemical changes do affect personality and behavior, by seeking treatment and recovery, the personality of your friend or loved one can return as the brain heals.

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