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Effects of drug addiction on brain: Symptoms, Warning signs and Precautions

Drug dependence/addiction causes loss of control over emotional regulation, Amnesia (forgetfulness or unable to form new memories), delirium (disoriented to time, place, person), sleep disorders, psychosis.

Puja Yadav Written by: Puja Yadav @pujayadav_7 New Delhi Updated on: March 04, 2022 22:02 IST
Image Source : FREEPIK

Effects of drug addiction on the brain

Drugs affect or alter the normal pathophysiology of our body. But mostly these are reversible, on chronic use it may cause irreversible damage. Generally, they alter the potency and pathways of several neurotransmitters (endogenous chemicals in the brain). This leads to further drug-seeking behaviour (dependence), hallucination (experiencing, hearing, seeing things that are not real), the delusion of persecution (person believes someone is planning to kill them or their close ones).

According to Dr Ashutosh Panda, Asst. surgeon, VSS Institute of Medical Science and Research Centre, "drug dependence/addiction causes loss of control over emotional regulation, Amnesia (forgetfulness or unable to form new memories), delirium (disoriented to time, place, person), sleep disorders, psychosis."

Effects of drug addiction on the brain

On long-term drug abuse, changes in the brain’s Prefrontal Cortex affects a person's planning, concentration, attention, control i.e Neurocognitive Dysfunction.

Some drugs can cause structural changes in the brain like lesions, demyelination, decrease in the number of receptors or receptor sensitivity.

Drug withdrawal symptoms

Symptoms that appear on stopping or reducing the drug intake are generally addressed as 'withdrawal symptoms'. Sometimes these are the important noticeable signs of drug abuse Like tremulousness, running nose, excessive sweating, sleep disturbances, loss of appetite.

Getting in extremities of mood like sobbing and crying to getting aggressive and violent. Sometimes these symptoms can be severe like seizure/fits to coma, cardiac arrest.

Short term effects of drugs

Short term effects of a drug vary according to their categories. Sometimes these are the effects, why a person uses drugs for and these are quite noticeable sometimes.

Usually, there are three kinds of drugs based on their effects:

 1. Stimulants - In the case of stimulants like cocaine and amphetamines, one feels intense pleasure, euphoric, energetic, increased heart rate, and body temperature and sweating, sometimes angry, anxious, paranoid.

 2. Depressants - In the case of depressants like alcohol, sedatives and benzodiazepines, one feels drowsy, slow thinking, less anxious (Although Alcohol have a varying degree of feeling from euphoric to coma depending on the dose)

 3. Hallucinogens - In the case of Hallucinogens like ketamine, LSD, phencyclidine effects like flashbacks, synaesthesia(mixing of sensation), visual/auditory & tactile hallucination are quite common.

Certain drugs for their short-term effect of drowsiness & loss of inhibition/control on the instinctive drive are misused to facilitate sexual assault. These are also called 'date rape drugs' like Alcohol (most commonly used), Roofies (Flunitrazepam), chloral hydrate, zolpidem & other BZDS etc.

How can drugs be avoided?

Research has shown the best preventive strategy should be scientific evidence-based and should work collaboratively with families, schools and communities.

-A conducive legal and policy environment and their proper implementation along with inter-sectoral collaboration are needed. It is important that laws and policies should aim toward providing adequate health and welfare services to people affected by drug abuse rather than subjecting them to the criminal justice system

-Teaching youths stress management techniques & how to handle grief, heartbreaks &relationship issues. Peer & parental counselling also plays an important role too

-Motivating teens to focus on long-term goals & developing healthy habits. And also by avoiding short-term pleasure gaining activities like gambling, long-duration exposure to scrolling social media, internet surfing, digital gaming.

-Regular aerobic exercises, Meditation, Yoga which increases endorphin and dopamine levels are important for overall well being and stress reduction

-Healthy eating habits and taking a balanced diet, staying hydrated and taking supplements in case of nutritional deficiency state helps to avoid drug abuse/addiction

-Stress management techniques, group therapy, motivation enhancement therapy, CBT are also helpful along with medications/medical attention to avoid further drug-seeking behaviour if the person has already developed drug dependence/addiction

What are the signs of Drug addiction/dependence?

1. Loss of control on Drug abuse i.e loss of self-control
2. Craving: Intense urge to take drugs
3. Tolerance: Subsequently needing a higher dose of the drug to get the same effect or kick
4. Withdrawal: On stopping or reducing the drug, the patient produces symptoms - can be physical or psychological.
5. Salience: Priorities substance use/drug use over other important decisions of life
6. Knowledge of harmful use: Compulsive use of the drug despite the harm he/she is suffering from drug use.
Though the diagnostic criteria need at least 3 features from the above mentioned for over 1 year

Consequences of Teen drug abuse:

-Drug abuse in teenage may create more vulnerability towards developing drug dependence/addiction in later life
-Damage to the brain due to drug abuse at an early age can be extensive
-They face significant difficulty in academics and in day to day activities as their concentration and attention span decrease
-It may have a negative impact on short term memory
-The tendency of getting into antisocial and criminal activities can increase multiple.

Who are easily prone to drug addiction?

Though anyone can get into drug addiction, the following people are more prone.

-Teen, adolescent age group
-People trying to cope with negative emotions and getting through adverse life events or having adjustment disorders.
-People with a family history of addiction
-Studies have also shown persons with an introvert personality trait, persons lacking emotional support and persons who usually find it difficult to cultivate positivity are more susceptible to fall into drug abuse.

Indian laws related to drugs

Murshed Tanwir, Advocate Supreme Court of India, author of 'Students Guide Book to The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985', said, "If drugs are found in your home or vehicle, then you will usually be arrested, but that doesn't mean you are guilty. Police will do whatever they can to get you to either confess or at least say something that will hurt your defence later on."

1. What are the punishments for drug addicts?

Consuming more than a small quantity but less than a commercial quantity involves rigorous imprisonment up to 10 years and fine up to Rs. 1 lakh. Those activities involving the commercial quantity of drugs attract rigorous imprisonment of 10 to 20 years and a fine of Rs. 1 lakh to 2 lakh.

2. How long is a jail term for drug use in India?

Consumption of drugs like cocaine, morphine and heroin attracts rigorous imprisonment up to one year or fine up to Rs. 20,000 or both. For other drugs, the punishment is imprisonment up to six months or a fine of up to Rs. 10,000 or both.

"About 5.5 per cent of the population aged between 15 and 64 years have used drugs at least once in the past year, while 36.3 million people, or 13 per cent of the total number of persons who use drugs, suffer from drug use disorders.

Globally, over 11 million people are estimated to inject drugs, half of whom are living with Hepatitis C. Opioids continue to account for the largest burden of disease attributed to drug use," according to the UNODC World Drug Report 2021.

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. They do not reflect the views of India TV)