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HOW DO DRUGS AND OTHER CHEMICALS AFFECT

NEUROTRANSMISSION?
How Do Drugs Affect Neurotransmitter?
How do drugs make us feel so euphoric? And at the same time, how can mere molecules
cause behaviours so alienating as those that accompany dependency?
Human behaviours and emotions are modulated by neurotransmitters that act as keys
between neurons. The amount of any given neurotransmitter in the brains circuits is
precisely controlled by numerous feedback mechanisms, somewhat the same way that a
thermostat keeps a room around a certain temperature.
Drugs are substances that disturb this delicate balance, because they have passkeys that
let them open certain locks located between the neurons. The brain automatically adjusts
to these substances from outside the body by producing fewer of its own natural keys. It
thereby achieves a new state of equilibrium that is maintained until the body starts to miss
the external substance. At that point, the person experiences a craving that will persist until
the neurons that went on vacation get back to work.
Among the brain circuits most affected by drugs is the one associated with pleasure.
This reward circuit that is overstimulated by drugs uses a particular
neurotransmitter called dopamine. So researchers have not been surprised to discover that
practically all of the drugs that cause dependencies increase the amount of dopamine in the
reward circuit.
They do so in different ways. Drugs act by imitating, stimulating, or blocking the effects of
certain neurotransmitters.

How Does Drugs Affect Neurotransmitter?


Dopamine appeared very early in the course of evolution and is involved in many functions
that are essential for survival of the organism, such as motricity, attentiveness,
motivation, learning, and memorization. But most of all, dopamine is a key element in
identifying natural rewards for the organism. These natural stimuli such as food and water
cause individuals to engage in approach behaviours. Dopamine is also involved in
unconscious memorization of signs associated with these rewards.
It has now been established that all substances that trigger dependencies in human beings
increase the release of a neuromediator, dopamine, in a specific area of the brain: the
nucleus accumbens.
But not all drugs increase dopamine levels in the brain in the same way.

Some substances imitate natural neuromediators and take their place on their
receptors. Morphine, for example, binds to the receptors for endorphin (a natural
"morphine" produced by the brain), while nicotine binds to the receptors for
acetylcholine.
Other substances increase the secretion of natural neuromediators. Cocaine, for
example, mainly increases the amount of dopamine in the synapses, while ecstasy
mainly increases the amount of serotonin.

Still other substances block a natural neuromediator. Alcohol, for example, blocks the
NMDA receptors.

The drugs that affect neurotransmission:


Alcohol
-

It suppresses the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate and increases the inhibitory


neurotransmitter GABA. What this means for you is that your thought, speech and
movements are slowed down, and the more you drink the more of these effects youll
feel
Alcohol also increases the release of dopamine in your brains reward center. By
jacking up dopamine levels in your brain, alcohol tricks you into thinking that its
actually making you feel great. The effect is that you keep drinking to get more
dopamine release, but at the same time youre altering other brain chemicals that
are enhancing feelings of depression.

Cocaine
-

Allow dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine to accumulate in the brain. It is the


accumulation of these chemicals within the brain that produces the effects that are
euphoric/rewarding as well as fearful and jittery.
When you use cocaine you run the risk of depleting your supply of neurotransmitters
which are required for the normal day to day functioning of your body. This can leave
you feeling exhausted and depressed and make it difficult to take pleasure in things
that would normally make you feel good.

Nicotine
-

Nicotine disrupts the normal relationship between the neurotransmitter acetylcholine


and the receptors acetylcholine binds to. Nicotine affects the neurotransmitter
acetylcholine and its receptor. This receptor is located in many brain structures and
body organs. It carries messages related to respiration, heart rate, memory,
alertness, and muscle movement. In order to feel normal, the user has to keep his or
her body supplied with nicotine. This is addiction. If the person stops using nicotine,
the number of receptors and their sensitivity to acetylcholine will eventually be
reestablished, but only after some time.

Caffeine
-

Caffeine achieves many of its effects by blocking the activity of adenosine. Primary
actions of adenosine is to make us tired or sleepy, caffeine, by blocking the uptake of
adenosine, keeps us from feeling the effects of fatigue.
By increasing the transmission of dopamine, caffeine improves our mood and may
protect brain cells from age and disease related degeneration.
By increasing the activity of acetylcholine, caffeine increases muscular activity and
may also improve long-term memory.
By raising and adjusting serotonin levels, caffeine relieves depression, makes us
more relaxed, alert, and energetic, and relieves migraine headaches.

Amphetamines

Amphetamines cause an increased release of dopamine into the synapse and then
prevent it from being recycled, making the feeling more intense and lasting longer.
Depending on a range of variables, including the type of drug, dopamine levels can
remain high and we feel the effects of amphetamines for 4 to 24 hours.

Increase in serotonin and a resulting depletion, as well as noradrenaline leading to a


fight-or-flight response.

Neurotransmitters, mental disorders, and medications


Schizophrenia
Impairment of dopamine-containing neurons in the brain is implicated in schizophrenia, a
mental disease marked by disturbances in thinking and emotional reactions. Medications
that block dopamine receptors in the brain, such as chlorpromazine and clozapine, have
been used to alleviate the symptoms and help patients return to a normal social setting.
Depression
In depression, which afflicts about 3.5% of the population, there appears to be abnormal
excess or inhibition of signals that control mood, thoughts, pain, and other sensations.
Depression is treated with antidepressants that affect norepinephrine and serotonin in the
brain. The antidepressants help correct the abnormal neurotransmitter activity.
Alzheimer's disease
Which affects an estimated four million Americans, is characterized by memory loss and the
eventual inability for self-care. The disease seems to be caused by a loss of cells that secrete
acetylcholine in the basal forebrain (region of brain that is the control center for sensory and
associative information processing and motor activities). Some medications to alleviate the
symptoms have been developed, but presently there is no known treatment for the disease.
Generalized anxiety disorder
People with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) experience excessive worry that causes
problems at work and in the maintenance of daily responsibilities. Evidence suggests that
GAD involves several neurotransmitter systems in the brain, including norepinephrine and
serotonin.
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
People affected by attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) experience difficulties in
the areas of attention, over activity, impulse control, and distractibility. Research shows that
dopamine and norepinephrine imbalances are strongly implicated in causing ADHD.