Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Science of Addiction

Neurons have the responsibility of passing both chemical and electrical signals to the brain. There is no particular shape and size, there is a wide variety of shape and sizes that the neuron can take. Depending on the sizes or shapes, the neurons have special abilities, like controlling the muscles or storing memories. The brain is separated into different sections, and they each have different responsibilities and jobs. In the center of the brain, is the reward pathway, which controls the our feelings, reward, and behavior. The central pathway is important because it makes us feel good when we engage in behaviors that are necessary for our survival. These beneficial behaviors include eating, drinking and sex.

Not only does the reward pathway makes us feel good, it also connects important parts of the brain, and because of these connections, it lets the reward pathway to gather information about what is happening outside of the body. The five senses will gather information about the nearby surroundings and send signals to the brain. So if you see a donut, then signals will be sent to your brain that their is one in front of you. Your memory has to do with eating, as well. Once you consume the food, the part of your brain having to do with memory, telling your body that you just ate something. "The five senses let the brain know that the body is eating food and the stomach is filling up, special neurons in the reward pathway release the chemical dopamine. The release of dopamine gives you a little jolt of pleasure." The central reward pathway will try it make sure that you repeat the actions that make you feel good. How do it does this? Well, it connects the memory and behavior. "When the reward pathway signals the brain’s motor center, it strengthens the wiring for behaviors that help you achieve your reward."

Drugs Alter the Brain's Reward Pathway:

Drugs Alter the Brain’s Reward Pathway

Drugs have a massive influence on the body. Within seconds, drugs will alter the synapse of the brain. It will bypass the five senses and go right for the reward pathway in the brain. Because of this, the drugs will give you a sudden rush of pleasure. Drugs used as an abuse will dramatically change the brain, so the brain tries to adapt. One of the ways that the brain tries to adapt is by reducing the amount of dopamine receptors at the synapse. When the person taking the drug “goes down,” then they will need more of the drug because the brain has tried to adapt. This makes the person addicted to the drug being consumed. The drug user has less activity in the brain than a normal person. Why? Well, the brain reduces the amount of receptors. Meth, cocaine, and heroin are all show these same effects. The faster the drug reaches the brain, the more addicting it gets.

Alcohol: Alcohol contains ethyl alcohol is found in most liquor beverages. It is a depressant, which will make you calmer and drowsier. Though alcohol is legal, it poses the risk of being very addicting. Alcohol also causes loss of motor coordination, reasoning/decision making, balance, speech, and judgment. When alcohol is consumed in large amounts, it can cause vomiting, lack of control, nausea, loss of consciousness, and in severe cases, death.

Marijuana: Marijuana is the most common drug in the United States and it comes for the plant called Cannabis Sativa. It will cause peaceful and joyous emotions in the user, but as soon as the feeling passes, the user will become depressed and tired. Marijuana also causes impaired memory, attention span, coordinator, loss of balance, and slow reaction time.

Cocaine: Cocaine comes for the coca plant that will speed up brain activity and the nervous system. Cocaine causes more energy, loss of appetite, disturbance is heart rhythm, nausea, respiratory failure, strokes, seizures, and increased awareness. Cocaine is highly addictive. There are also severe side effects if the user stops taking cocaine.

Meth: Meth is a stimulant drug, that even taken in small amounts, can have strong effects on the brain and nervous system. Meth will cause mental alertness and increased energy. High amounts can cause the body temperature to increase and it may cause convulsions. Meth is extremely addictive and causes violent behavior, delusions, anxiety, insomnia, and paranoia.

Heroin: Heroin is the most widely abused opiate. Some opiates are used as a prescription to treat pain, but heroin is not. Heroin causes a rush of pleasure, followed by many hours of drowsiness. It may also cause nausea, vomiting, and severe itching. If you stop taking the drug, the side effects would be restlessness, muscle and bone pain, insomnia, diarrhea, vomiting, and cold flashing.

Nicotine: Nicotine is the addictive drug found in tobacco and it can produce a calming and soothing effect. Quitting is difficult and it can cause intense cravings, irritation, and sleep disturbances. Tobacco is responsible for at least 30% of all cancer deaths, including the 90% of lung cancer patients. It is responsible for the many cancers including mouth, throat, esophagus, stomach, bladder, and kidney. Heart attacks, strokes, chronic bronchitis, and emphysema.

MDMA: It is a drug that will stimulate and cause hallucinogen. MDMA can produce both energizing effects and distortions in perception and time. The ecstasy tablets contain more than just MDMA, such as meth, caffeine, cough suppressant, and diet drugs. There are many side effects when taking MDMA, like chills, muscle cramping, teeth clenching, panic attacks, loss of consciousness, seizures, dehydration, hyperthermia, heart failure, kidney failure, and a reduction in mental abilities.

Inhalants: Inhalants are chemicals that get inhaled to get an immediate high. These chemicals are found in many household items found in aerosol sprays, cleaning fluids, glue, paint, paint thinner, gasoline, propane, nail polish remover, correction fluid, and marker pens. Inhalants will affect the brain with such intensity that permanent brain damage can be caused and sudden death.

Anabolic Steroids: They are similar to the substances in that are similar to male sex hormones. But because it help make muscles larger, it is abused by athletes and body builders. Steroids will increase the chance of heart attacks, strokes, and liver problems. Physical appearance is also altered, like hair loss and acne. Steroids are not that addicting, but they put people under pressure for self-appearance, competitions, and for others.

Dissociative Drugs: PCP is either in a liquid form or a powder form to marijuana and tobacco. When taking the drug, the user will feel disconnect from the reality, out of control, unpredictable or violent behavior, convulsion, coma, high fever, and death. Ketamine makes you feel a terrifying feelings and near-death experience. Most of the ketamine sold on the streets has stolen for veterinarian’s office, where it is used as an anesthetic. Cough medicine is safe in right amount of doses, but when it has higher doses and it has almost the side effects as PCP and ketamine.

GHB and Rohypnol: GHB is a depressant that is abused by party-goers because of its relaxing effects and by bodybuilders because it promotes muscle growth. At high doses, or mixed with other drugs, can cause seizers, loss of consciousness, coma, and death. Rohypnol is in the class of drugs that are used to treat anxiety disorders. In the United States, it is illegal, even as a prescription. When it is mixed with other depressants, rohypnol can very deadly. Because they both clear, tasteless, and odorless, people can slip the drug into someone else drink. This is a date rape drug because victims will be physically unable to resist an assault and they might not me able to remember what happens the next day.

Hallucinogens: Hallucinogens are drugs that will cause hallucinations, distortions, and perception of time and reality. There is a swing from one emotion to another. Users will or may see, hear, or feel things that are not there. Physical effects include dilated pupils, high body temperature, increased heart rate, blood pressure, sweating, loss of appetite, sleep derivation, dry mouth, and tremors.

There are many ways to inject drugs into the system. Some of the methods of injections include smoking, injection, ingestion, and intranasal. The environment and factors have to do with the fact on whether or not you consume drugs. Studies show that the faster the drug goes to the brain, the more addicting it will become. The fastest way to the brain is by smoking it, and the second fastest way is to inject it into the blood stream. The slowest way to the brain is through consumption, like drinking alcohol. Alcohol will take minutes, rather than seconds, to effects to kick in. Could there be a therapy hidden in the wild world of drugs? “Increased knowledge about drug delivery methods is providing new addiction therapies. It turns out that the slow delivery of a drug by ingestion or through the skin, produces a weaker longer-lasting effect. This temporarily stabilizes the brain and helps reduce the physical symptoms of withdrawal. And it's not addicting! So it's a safe and increasingly popular treatment option.” Because the brain continues to adapt (or try to) to the drug, areas outside of the reward system are affected. Areas like the judgement and memory will be physically changed, or hard wired. When on drugs, the brain activity slows, and there is not as much activity, compared to a normal brain.

Death because of drug use is typically caused by the overdoses of more than one drug. The Drug Abuse Warning Network states that, on average, 2.7 million drugs in fatal overdose cases. A deadly combination would be heroin and alcohol. Because they both suppress breathing, it is possible that the drug user will stop breathing. Which drug causes the most deaths in overdose? The answer is heroin. The majority of the deaths are caused by respiratory failure. Heroin causes GABA, which is basically slowing breathing to the point where you stop breathing. Alcohol is also very dangerous.

Alcohol causes the decrease of glutamate, which ultimately leads to loss of consciousness. It can also cause breathing to cease and slow down. The body tries to get rid of the consumed alcohol, by emptying the stomach. If the person is unconsciousness, and they vomit, they may inhale the vomit, which could effect their breathing and they could drown. Yes we all know there smoking can lead to: lung cancer and possibly death, but did you know that smoking can lead to a nicotine overdose. If the smoker is trying the quit, (using the nicotine gum and patches, while still smoking) they are actually putting in more nicotine in their body. If the nicotine levels get too high, then it can paralyze muscles that are used to control breathing or it can cause a heart attack. How do stimulants cause death? Well, they can cause brain damage, organ failure, overheating, and heart attacks. Cocaine is a stimulant. The most common way cocaine takes lives, is through heart attacks, hyperthermia, and brain damage. Even if you are taking small doses, you are still making yourself 24 times more likely to have a heart attack. Amphetamine increases the levels dopamine in your body and the hormone norepinephrine. This can also cause over-heating, heart attacks, and/or brain damage. For ecstasy, which is also known as the club drug, the most common way to die is overheating, because it is commonly taken in clubs, where it is hot and overcrowded.


  1. I really liked this post! The way you laid out the information made it really easy to comprehend. The part about the neurons was especially comprehendible. A "reward pathway in the center of the brain" really helped me visualize what happens in the brain. The only thing I would change is the last part that says
    "Drugs Alter the Brain's Reward Pathway:


    I didn't quite understand what that was about.......

    Overall it was a VERY nice post!

  2. This post was very good and it was laid out very nicely. The information was educational and informative. I really liked how you went in depth with everything. It was a very nice post!