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How drug abuse affects the brain

How drug abuse affects the brain

June xx, 2020- Drug abuse is one of the persistent and serious problems facing humanity today. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) estimated that about 35 million people worldwide had suffered from this disorder in 2019. Drug abuse will be put on the spotlight anew on June 26, when the world celebrates the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking. This is a special opportunity to forge stronger collaborations with individuals and organizations worldwide to help rid of our communities with this menace once and for all.  In Saudi Arabia, the Saudi German Hospitals (SGH) Group, the largest private hospital groups in the Middle East, is one of the leading institutions that will commemorate the day along with other bodies. SGH has long been investing its resources in initiatives aimed at keeping the Saudi community safe. It will continue to do so in the future as part of its mission.     But what makes drug addiction dangerous? A person who is addicted to drugs exhibits adverse behavioral changes, acting in a manner that causes emotional, physical, and financial problems to himself and his family. An addicted person can be irrational, or even destructive, with the drugs completely altering his demeanor over time.     This is because drug addiction affects the human brain, that complex, special organ tasked to control all the functions of our body, our emotions, and our thoughts. If abused, drugs have mind-altering effects that disrupt normal brain activity and, subsequently, impact the quality of life of a person.   Inside the brain of a drug abuser, the organ’s communication process is altered in a way that an abnormal level of neurotransmitters is observed. Neurotransmitters are substances used by the neurons to communicate with each other to control human behaviors and thoughts. This change scrambles messages and interferes with how the nerve cells are sending, receiving, and processing information. Further, cases of drugs mimicking neurotransmitters have been recorded in a number of patients.  Specialists have also reported the presence of dopamine - a neurotransmitter linked to the feeling of pleasure - beyond the normal level. In this case, the neurons make adjustments by reducing dopamine levels.  With less dopamine, an individual may feel depressed and lifeless without the substance; hence, the need to take the drugs again to stimulate the feeling of elation and being energized. An addicted person repeats the process for a long time until it turns into a vicious cycle. Overconsumption of substances – whether illegal or not - to stimulate enjoyment, feel good, or avoid reality, among other reasons, is damaging the brain makeup. Drugs can shrink or enlarge the brain’s different sections with devastating effects on the physical and mental health of an individual.  Additionally, some neurons may eventually die due to prolonged exposure to toxic drugs.    People who are starting to get addicted may find themselves taking more drugs for a longer period than necessary. They tend to spend time alone and begin to not care about their appearance. They may also lie, steal, or cheat with a decreased capacity to make sound decisions. They may also exhibit memory lapses and learning difficulties. These are warning signs that will need early intervention and appropriate treatment. Many institutions are now equipped to handle substance abuse cases. At SGH, for instance, our Department of Psychiatry offers people suffering from addiction, which is considered a mental illness, with customized treatment and support systems that fit a patient’s needs. The department is being run by a multidisciplinary team that includes psychiatrists, social workers, and occupational therapists. In delivering special psychiatric services, the team follows innovative and integrated care models, with emphasis on a holistic approach. Ultimately, the department seeks to provide accessible and quality health and behavioral services, especially to people who are at risk of mental illness. Families play a role in saving the lives of their loved ones. Their support and love are crucial during these times, making sure that the addicted person stops abusing drugs and remaining drug-free for the rest of his life.  

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