How Do Drugs And Alcohol Affect The Body And Mind?

How Do Drugs And Alcohol Affect The Body And Mind?

It has been proven that drug use affects the functioning and structure of the nervous system. These alterations can be very durable and induce behaviors that can put the addict’s life at risk. Drug abuse is a notable public health dilemma, as continued consumption of these drugs can lead to severe consequences. Also, if you spend a specified period without consuming, you may see annoying withdrawal symptoms, which are opposite to the sensations that a drug can simulate. Addiction is described as a disease that lasts a lifetime, which is defined by search responses of the addictive element and its impelling consumption despite causing adverse consequences. Addiction is linked to an increased likelihood of relapse, which usually begins when the person is exposed to certain stimuli associated with drugs.It also implies that consumption behavior is maintained, even if it results in negative consequences for the person. It is usual to create a vicious cycle: the individual consumes a substance, this, directly and indirectly, causes biopsychosocial adverse effects, so that his escape route is to drink it again to avoid problems.

Alters Synaptic Connections

In current years it has also been demonstrated that addiction alters the power of synaptic connections of neurons, particularly those that release and receive glutamate, an excitatory neurotransmitter.

Morphological variations in the brain of frequent consumers of several different drugs have been found in numerous immunohistochemical, histological, and morphometric investigations.

The main findings include neuronal loss, generalized axonal damage, neurodegenerative problems, decrease in glial fibrillar acid proteins, as well as alterations in the cerebral microvasculature.

Neurochemical And Functional Changes In The Brain

According to Nora Volkow (the world’s most excellent expert on the effects of the drug on the brain) (2003), neurochemical and functional changes have been observed in the mind of addicts thanks to neuroimaging studies.

When the character is under the spell of drugs or craving (strong desire to consume again), complex brain mechanisms are activated. These involve the reward pathways (the nucleus of accumbens), circuits associated with motivation (orbitofrontal cortex), memory (tonsil and hippocampus), and cognitive control (cingulate gyrus and prefrontal cortex).

Decrease Dopamine Levels

Different research has highlighted the position of dopamine, a substance that raises distinctly and very suddenly when under the reinforcing influences of drugs.

According to a publication of the Harvard Mental Health Letter in 2004, it seems that the primary mechanism that maintains the addiction is the release of dopamine in the nucleus of accumbens when the pill is used. This stimulates pleasure in the subject and uses as a false signal, symbolizing that this behavior aids survival or reproduction.

Naturally, rewards are achieved with effort and are often delayed. However, the opposite is exact with drugs: access to pleasure is direct.

Therefore, when consumption is interrupted, the level of dopamine drops, causing dysfunctions in the prefrontal zone of the brain. This happens in impulsivity and dilemmas for inhibitory control. There is also a decline in the gratification potential of natural strengthening inducements, such as food or sex.

When a substance is exhausted for a long time, a decrease in dopamine levels occurs in an endeavor by the brain to improve them. Addicts will continuously need higher doses and, more commonly, to achieve the results that the drug presented at the beginning.

Raise The Inception Of Pleasure: Loss Of Control

The addictive substance and the stimuli that are related to the loss of control acquire a high power of reward that prevails over any other pleasant stimulus.

Also, when the subject is imperiled to the drug or elements linked with it, it seems that the mere memory of the gratification afforded by that substance provides the overactivation of the reward circuit while limiting cognitive control.

That is why it is tough for addicts to inhibit their drug-seeking behavior and abandon consumption.

Despite years of austerity, the thoughts remain set in the subconscious of the addict. In this method, before events, places, or events that are linked to the drug, this longing to consume it is reactivated, despite the time that has passed.

This event is called conditioned learning, which builds very tenacious associations between two stimuli, mainly when they associate pleasure pathways. This happens because the nucleus accumbens transmits signals to the amygdala and hippocampus, and these are dedicated to storing and consolidating memories that cause intense feelings.

For that reason, an alcoholic who has not been drinking for years may feel the urge to sip again when he turns to the bar he used to frequent. Another example is what a former heroin addict may feel when he sees a hypodermic needle.

That is why it is recommended to avoid relapses in cases of alcoholism that improve the environment and rules of the person since an addict will never cease to be.

External or internal tensions can foster a relapse. That is, addicts find themselves in delicate situations or generate stress or discomfort.

Probably people who fall into addiction were already hypersensitive to stress or had difficulty tolerating frustration, characteristics that make them prone to start consumption, and maintain it. Although on other occasions, this altered response to stress can come from brain disorders after a long time of substance abuse.

The fact is that it has been revealed that the level of corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH), liable for regulating the stress and activity of the tonsil, develops in addicted subjects before a relapse.


It is more than known that alcohol consumption, both occasional and recurrent, can cause numerous effects on the brain. When this consumption is excessive, due to problems of alcoholism, this can cause irreversible deterioration at the brain level.

However, although there are common patterns, the consequences of alcohol consumption are not the same for all people; There are considerable differences according to age, sex, or weight.

The following are a series of factors that determine both the way and the degree to which alcohol affects the brain:

  • Assistance with which the person consumes alcohol.
  • Age at which alcohol consumption began and duration of use.
  • Current age of the person.
  • Education level.
  • Sex.
  • Genetic background.
  • Family history of alcoholism.
  • Prenatal exposure to alcohol.
  • General health status.
  • Effects of alcohol in the short and long term.

Alcohol can begin to generate effects on the body, however slight, since the first drink. All these effects that it causes in the short term intensify and retain over time as consumption becomes more and more frequent.

Emotional Changes​

Alcohol consumption involves a series of imbalances in brain chemistry that affect behavior, thoughts, feelings, and emotions. These disturbances in brain chemistry favor the appearance of emotional changes such as anxiety, depression, or aggressiveness. Although traditionally, people have used alcohol as a means to disinhibit themselves, to feel relaxed or even to be more friendly and outgoing; Excessive alcohol intake tends to transform these emotions into anxiety, aggressiveness, and sadness, or depression in the short term.

Memory Lapses​

Alcohol intake can lead to minor deterioration in the hippocampus. This deterioration is manifested through memory lapses, which can occur only a few hours after consuming small amounts of alcohol. However, when it is ingested in large quantities, on an empty stomach and in short periods, the person may experience forgetfulness of more full-time intervals or even complete events.

Loss Of Consciousness

Syncopes or loss of consciousness for short periods are shared in those people who down large amounts of alcohol. This rapid intake causes blood alcohol levels to rise dramatically, causing fainting and loss of consciousness.


Drinking alcohol in both small and large doses can interfere with the brain's prefrontal cortex connections. This area is responsible for mediating the person's impulsivity, as well as the organization of their behavior. When blood alcohol levels begin to increase, the person is likely to experience impulsive behaviors that surely would never have been carried out in sobriety conditions. However, like changes in aggressiveness, these alterations also depend on the predisposition or character of the person. That is, a person who tends to be aggressive or impulsive in typical situations will be much more susceptible to these effects or will experience them with higher intensity than a person who tends to be calm.

Wernike-Korsakoff Syndrome

Alcohol addiction causes, in 80% of cases, a deficiency of vitamin B1 or thiamine. This decrease in thiamine levels is a risk factor when developing Wernike-Korsakoff syndrome. This condition is distinguished because the person simultaneously presents a Wernike encephalopathy and in known Korsakoff syndrome. Both diseases have their origin in the lack of this vitamin.

Destruction Of Neurons

In addition to the braking of brain development during adolescence, alcohol consumption also affects neuronal development in adulthood. During this stage, the consumption of high doses of alcohol prevents the growth of new cells and reduces the number of brain neurons in some regions of the brain. However, these damages are more visible in specific areas of these nerve cells: the axons, extensions that form the wiring of the nervous system.


An extreme addiction to alcohol can lead to a state of disorder of psychosis in people, which experiences all kinds of hallucinations, paranoia, and illusions. Likewise, if a person with a long history of alcoholism abruptly interrupts alcohol consumption, they may develop an alcohol withdrawal syndrome, also known as "delirium tremens." This syndrome causes hyperstimulation of the adrenergic system, causing headaches, constant agitation, body tremors, nausea and vomiting, hallucinations, and even death.