What Drugs Do to the Brain

Drugs and the Brain
by Beth Wright

Part 2 of a 2-Part Series

Last week, we began a special two-part series about what drugs do to your brain. Click here to catch up by reading part one, How Addiction Changes the Brain.

Why People Do DrugsWhy people do drugs MFI Recovery
Dopamine is released when an individual experiences pleasure. This occurs whether that joy is brought on by shopping, spending time with family, gambling, or doing drugs. However, substance abuse floods the reward system. Dopamine is not only responsible for the experience of pleasure but also plays a role in learning and memory. So, while our brains naturally produce Dopamine through pleasurable activities, the amount of Dopamine released into the brain through drugs is more powerful than that which is released through other activities and events. Constant drug use overwhelms and even eliminates receptors. To a drug addict, nothing else touches what he or she feels when filled with the drug of choice.

Immediate Gratification Drugs AddictionAddiction Recovery
When an addict decides to enter recovery and stop substance use, the brain starts to learn how to produce natural dopamine and begin repairing receptors. This takes time. With addiction, the dopamine surge is immediate. Addicts come to rely on instant gratification. This is the underlying reason so many recovered addicts and alcoholics relapse.

People in recovery have to patiently wait for the brain to heals itself. This is difficult, as chemicals in the brain deplete our natural “feel good” chemicals. While in addiction, the brain creates memories associated with drug use. This thought process recalls drugs leading to pleasure. So, even as tolerance increases and the individual fails to experience the same level of pleasure as taking drugs once provide, he will continue to take more as a way to chase the original pleasurable experience.

The addict’s brain tells her:
“This drug is necessary for survival.”Brain Thinks it Needs Drugs to Survive

Survival is the brain’s primary directive. So, the search for drugs often overcomes rational thoughts about the wisdom in giving up the drug. Recovery involves uncovering and challenging the addict to face memories or “triggers.” These include visual stimuli such as a needle or a bottle of alcohol. Over time, implementing new behaviors and creating coping rewire the brain.

The Brain, in Simple Terms
Brain in simplest termsThis is the absolute simplest way of describing the brain. Fascinating and terrifying changes occur to the brain during substance abuse. They vary, depending on numerous factors – age of onset, mental health disorders, substance being abused, etc.


  • Methamphetamine use can cause psychosis in an individual who previously has did not previously experience mental health issues.
  • Alcoholics can drink themselves to the point of developing Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome.
  • Memory loss can be permanent.
  • Psychosis may occur for several days or several months. Each substance has its own unique effects on the brain although all can be addicted.Addiction Stop Drugs Alcohol MFI

Underlying Questions
Why does an alcoholic try meth without the temptation to repeat?
Why does someone else get hooked on his first try?
Why are some social drinks unable to tolerate opiate use one time without becoming lost in an endless cycle of heroin addiction although they avoided alcoholism for years without issue?

Substances tampers with the chemical makeup of our brains. Any questions?

About Mt Rubidoux MFI
Our treatment center provides services to people who struggle with drug and alcohol abuse. Located in the shadow of Mt. Rubidoux in the City of Riverside, we provide structured and supportive addiction treatment in semi-private, comfortable apartment-style setting. Monitored by professional addiction specialists 24 hours a day, our modern apartments offer a haven for healing during the rehab process. Living and recovering in our Mt. Rubidoux residential treatment facility means becoming healthy again. Our clients receive intensive treatment and learn new, healthy strategies to sustain recovery. To find out more, call today 866-218-4697, or for non-admission related information, contact us at 951-683-6596.
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About MFI Recovery
Throughout 10 facilities in Riverside and San Bernardino Counties, we employ the Matrix-Method for each individual client, creating a personalized treatment program. Various modalities can include behavior modification, 12-Step recovery program introduction, cognitive behavioral therapy, and family systems techniques, including the family in group therapy. Treatment options include outpatient and inpatient detox, medication management (if appropriate), group therapy, individual therapy, relapse prevention education, and ongoing support after treatment. To find out more, call today (866) 218-4697, or for non-admission related information, contact us at (951) 683-6596.

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