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How Drugs Disrupt the Brain of a Teenager

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By: Mohd Sadaq

Given the adrenal rush and the excitement that comes with the growing age, the parts of the brain dedicated to judgment, rational decision-making and self-control are often blurred by a sense of power and ecstasy, teenagers, therefore, have a higher propensity to experiment with drugs and alcohol. And because of their stage of brain development, they do not always understand the potential risks. The problem is that early drug and alcohol use in adolescence and young adults bears the greatest risks, particularly the risk of chronic addiction that is often very hard to leave.

When a teenager uses drugs, the drugs get absorbed into the bloodstream and carried to various organs, including the brain interfering with its normal processing including the development of cells and the function of the brain’s neurotransmitters such as dopamine.

Dopamine is the chemical in our brains that allows us to experience pleasure or feel good. It reinforces reward. For example, when we eat, dopamine is released – telling us that food makes us feel good and that we must continue to eat to feel satisfied and to survive. But when drugs enter the brain, they release an excessive amount of dopamine and overload the body with pleasurable feelings. The human brain, at any stage of development, is wired so that we repeat activities associated with great pleasure and reward. It is wired to feel as though these pleasurable activities are life-sustaining. Because teenagers have a greater tendency to seek pleasurable activities already (and a reduced ability to measure the consequences) they are highly vulnerable to the temptations of drug and alcohol.

When drugs are used repeatedly, they make lasting changes in the brain and the way it functions and the consequences can be even worse. The teenage brain is learning and absorbing new behaviors and when something releases a high amount of pleasure – such as drugs – the brain considers it as a very important activity. The brain remembers it and strengthens it, pruning back on other areas, instead. But because teenagers’ reward circuits are still being developed, their ability to bounce back to normal after using drugs is lessened.

Drugs are chemicals that tap into the brain’s communication system can activate nerve cells improperly, damage brain connections and send abnormal messages throughout our brain circuits. When drug use is introduced and repeated, the brain will send messages to the rest of the body saying that it needs the drugs to function. The body will feel this (through withdrawal symptoms or intense cravings) and cause a user to seek out drugs once again. This is part of the addiction cycle and this is why addiction is considered a brain disease. Users often cannot stop using drugs even when they want to, because of the consequences that the brain and body experiences.

You see, in response to an overload of dopamine, the brain will eventually send less “feel good” signals out to the body. This contributes to the low or down period after a drug wears off. And over time, as drug use is repeated and a user’s dopamine levels are reduced, a tolerance will build. That person will need more of the drug, more often, to feel the same pleasurable effects. This is a tell-tale sign of drug addiction, but the risks extend beyond that. Often, addicted teenagers will increase their drug dosages without thinking twice, and later overdose by taking too much.

The writer is Student of 6th semester at Government Degree College Bhaderwah. [email protected]


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