The central nervous system acts as the body’s “internet,” sending, receiving, and processing signals in response to stimuli both inside and outside of the body. The brain acts as the “server,” and it not only stores memories but is responsible for all sensation, response, movement, thoughts, and emotions. As we learned in biology class, “The muscles are the movers,” but, “The brain tells us where to move.” When it comes to health, the central nervous system tells us about dangers, such as touching a hot burner. Because it’s the conduit through which the brain tells the muscles to move, it’s integral to physical fitness.
Basically, any drug affects the central nervous system in some way. Cocaine, methamphetamine, and other stimulants can cause neurotoxicity, which adversely affects the brain. Alcohol, heroin, and other depressants interfere with the brain’s ability to regulate the central nervous system and the body. Even prescription drugs do this, which is why they should always be administered under the care of a doctor or nurse practitioner.
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Illicit Drugs and Their Impact on the Central Nervous System
Stimulants raise catecholamine levels in the blood and cause issues with the adrenergic receptors in the brain. With meth, the increase on the catecholamines includes both norepinephrine and dopamine, which both increase euphoria and libido. In some cases, the user experiences higher cognition. Derivatives of meth, such as ecstasy and mephedrone, have similar actions. Cocaine actually blocks the transmission of dopamine, causing the characteristic “rush” as the effects of localized dopamine are heightened.
Depressants, on the other hand, affect the brain chemistry by slowing everything down. They increase gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA, which is the chemical that does the “slowing down.” This is why these drugs are prescribed for sleep disorders. They’re easy to use incorrectly, however, leading to addiction. Too much of these drugs can be life-threatening. The proverbial “bottle of pills” has been, quite literally, the death of far too many people.
Hallucinogens affect how the brain processes serotonin, causing loss of perception of time, cognition, and in severe cases, psychosis. Some mild hallucinogenic drugs, such as THC, seldom produce life-threatening conditions. Others, such as LSD, certainly can, and even if there are no such conditions at the time someone takes the drug, or shortly thereafter, using LSD can produce terrible effects even years down the road. When it comes to psilocybin, or “magic mushrooms,” the effect is similar to other hallucinogens. However, in 2022, researchers in the United Kingdom performed at least two studies that show beneficial effects of controlled psilocybin intake when it comes to treating depression. Even so, using too much can still be dangerous.
Prescription Drugs That Influence the Central Nervous System
Opioids are depressants. The affect norephinephrine production and block certain pain receptors in the brain. The chief reason people misuse opioids is to chase the high of the euphoria they produce.
Benzodiazepenes are usually prescribed for sleep disorders and anxiety. As with other depressants, they affect GABA and how it binds to certain receptors in the central nervous system. The chief risk with “benzos” is that their withdrawal can be exceedingly problematic, requiring herculean measures in the most extreme cases. Most of the time, in those cases, those measures are to keep the person alive long enough to begin treatment.
ADHD medications, such as Ritalin and Adderall, are stimulants, but their action in the brain is slightly different from other drugs of the same type. Sometime, doctors will prescribe Atomoxetine, which is not a stimulant but is still effective at treating ADHD. It is a serotonin–norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor, which makes it similar to antidepressant medications. Its use isn’t as common because it has a long list of drug interactions and side effects. Most often, doctors prescribe it if stimulants are not effective or if they are contraindicated in some way. Atomoxetine is also not addictive at all, so it’s a good choice if the person has had a history of misusing stimulants. Adderall and Ritalin produce large amounts of dopamine, so the people who misuse it do so for the euphoric high.
Antidepressants of various types control GABA, serotonin, and other chemicals in the brain. The idea is to increase postsynaptic neurotransmission. As stated, there is also promising research in the United Kingdom regarding psilocybin in treating depression, but it works in another way. Antidepressants are not addictive, per se, but there might be withdrawal or other considerations when stopping their use or changing medications.
Long-Term Effects of Substances That Alter the Central Nervous System
Different drugs have different long-lasting effects. Stimulants can cause memory loss, loss of the ability to feel pleasure at all other than with the drug, drug-induced psychosis, and other terrible consequences. Some people lose teeth too. Depressants, such as heroin, change the brain in ways that affect decision making, the regulation of behavior, and appropriate responses to stress.
Heroin, specifically, leads to intense physical addiction. In fact, stopping it cold turkey is often fatal. The worst part is that the person will do anything to get more of the drug to stave off the intensely disagreeable aspects of heroin withdrawal. It becomes the primary motivation in the person’s life, and the person will ignore or misuse family relationships and friendships, often to criminality, just to use again.
Treatment Options for Substance Use Disorder
All treatment options must begin with a medically supervised process of detoxification. That’s necessary to prevent catastrophe. In many cases, the medical professionals who oversee such detoxification have to use the drugs to which their clients are addicted to help them wean off of them. People also must go through therapy of different kinds to learn coping strategies and to develop healthy relationships so that they have tools and friends upon whom to rely to deal with lifelong recovery. At Illinois Recovery Center, not only do we have the experience and knowledge to be able to help you transition to lifelong recovery, but we also ensure that you keep your dignity while undergoing the process. Contact us if you or someone you know has substance use disorder. We’re here to help.