Throughout history, drug use has been associated with a number of incredibly horrible side effects, ranging from anxiety and confusion to manic depression, paralysis, and death. In fact, in the 1800s, the presence of opium in China led directly to two wars! Though there are two centuries between then and now, drugs are still a powerful player behind many deaths and horrible tragedies. On a more individual scale, as the number of individuals using drugs right here in America has increased over recent years, so too has the number of reported side effects and complications commonly associated with them. Drugs, unlike almost any other vice, interact with the brain first and foremost. The chemicals and toxins present in even the smallest sample of a drug have the capacity to completely alter the brain’s natural chemistry and impact a person’s emotions, behaviors, and moods. They can also impact the central nervous system— drastically increasing or decreasing heart rate, body temperature, blood pressure, and respiration rate. The altered and unsafe state of any of these alone is enough to spell serious trouble; the combination of more than one alteration can be deadly. Along with changing mood, emotions, and behaviors, drugs also affect gamma-aminobutyric acid levels, which can lead to an imbalance in stress and energy levels– and norepinephrine levels, which control a person’s fight-or-flight response. That’s not all. There are also specific regions of the brain that are directly impacted by drug use. The brain stem, cerebral cortex, and limbic system are all targeted by chemicals in these drugs– and all play vital roles in keeping the body alive. The brain stem controls human breathing, sleeping, and heart rate. The limbic system controls emotions- specifically happiness. And the cerebral cortex manages vital functions like thinking, planning, problem-solving, and information processing. All of these systems function autonomically– meaning we don’t have to control them ourselves. Unfortunately, this also means that damage to these particular systems can be even more dangerous than damage to others. It goes without saying that the more often drugs are used, the more impaired these components of the brain become. And, unlike most of our body, the human brain can’t regenerate lost or damaged components. This means the damage done to it is irreversible– and it’s also the reason that anyone suffering through addiction is urged to seek professional help. The human brain simply isn’t equipped to deal with drug abuse and addiction on its own.
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