How drugs change your feelings.

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Brain circuits.

Brain.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Drugs of abuse alter the chemical balance in your brain.

The human brain is a very complex organ. Everything you think, feel, experience, or do is the result of brain activity. Drugs, especially drugs of abuse, can alter the chemical balance in your brain either temporary or sometimes permanently.

The brain is made up of millions of tiny nerve cells called neurons. These nerve cells connect to each other through billions of tiny nerve endings. In the early days of physiological psychology, this all seemed so simple.

Electricity moves information within a nerve cell.

Early on, we discovered that a nerve cell can develop an electrical charge and when this charge moved down the nerve cell, it transmitted information. Electrically stimulating a rat’s brain might cause him to move the leg.

Electrical stimulation doesn’t explain everything. Between one nerve cell and the next, there are infinitesimal, small gaps. Scientists refer to those gaps as synaptic gaps, or sometimes they speak of the connections between cells as synapses. It turns out that electricity doesn’t flow very well from one brain cell to another through the brain fluid.

Information moves from one nerve cell to another chemically.

The human nervous system manufacturers a large number of chemicals, some of which are called neurotransmitters. When I first studied the subject in the 1960s, we study two neurotransmitters. Today hundreds of neurotransmitters have been identified and studied. The more research I read, the more newly identified neurotransmitters I encounter.

Drugs of abuse alter the way information moves between cells chemically.

For a drug of abuse to affect the way you think, feel, or behave, it needs to do two things. First, it needs to get into your brain. The brain contains a large amount of fluid. Protecting that fluid from contamination is the blood-brain barrier. This membrane is designed to keep undesirable material out of your brain. All drugs of abuse must have molecules that can get through this blood-brain barrier.

Each neurotransmitter has a shape which fits a receptor in the next cell.

You hear a gun go off and your nervous system produces a stimulant chemical that gets your heart pounding and prepares you for action. That stimulant chemical is sometimes called adrenaline. A similar chemical is found in the nervous system. We, here in the US, call that chemical norepinephrine, in some other countries it is called noradrenaline. This chemical fits into receptors on other cells and causes them to act.

One of the explanations for how drugs of abuse affect your nervous system is called the “lock and key theory.” Each naturally occurring neurotransmitter has a shape, and other cells have a receptor designed to accept that shape. So, when your nervous system sends out norepinephrine, it fits into receptors throughout your nervous system to prepare you to take immediate action.

Drugs of abuse mimic the shapes of naturally occurring neurotransmitter.

Stimulant drugs, such as cocaine or methamphetamine, are shaped in a way that is similar to norepinephrine. Because they mimic a natural neurotransmitter’s shape, they can make all the circuits in your nervous system fire.

Drugs of abuse not only activate a few cells, but they can activate many cells in far more emphatic ways than your naturally occurring neurotransmitters do. Because of this, drugs of abuse can feel very pleasurable, but only for brief periods of time. Each time you use a drug, it changes the chemical balance in your brain. Over time it changes the balance so much, you are unable to feel the things you used to feel unless the drug is present in your system.

Of course, the process in the brain is far more complicated than this simple description. Many other things are taking place every time you think a thought or the chemistry in your brain changes. Understanding how drugs of abuse mess with the way your nervous system works helps to explain a large part of how those drugs can lead to abuse, dependence, addiction, and a whole range of disorders we call substance use disorders.

For more on this topic see – Drug Use, Abuse, and Addiction and Recovery

David Joel Miller MS is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) and a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC.)  Mr. Miller provides supervision for beginning counselors and therapists and teaches at the local college in the Substance Abuse Counseling program.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Seven David Joel Miller Books are available now!

My newest book is now available. It was my opportunity to try on a new genre. I’ve been working on this book for several years, but now seem like the right time to publish it.

Story Bureau.

Story Bureau is a thrilling Dystopian Post-Apocalyptic adventure in the Surviving the Apocalypse series.

Baldwin struggles to survive life in a post-apocalyptic world where the government controls everything.

As society collapses and his family gets plunged into poverty, Baldwin takes a job in the capital city, working for a government agency called the Story Bureau. He discovers the Story Bureau is not a benign news outlet but a sinister government plot to manipulate society.

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Dark Family Secrets: Doris wants to get her life back, but small-town prejudice could shatter her dreams.

Casino Robbery Arthur Mitchell escapes the trauma of watching his girlfriend die. But the killers know he’s a witness and want him dead.

Planned Accidents  The second Arthur Mitchell and Plutus mystery.

Letters from the Dead: The third in the Arthur Mitchell mystery series.

What would you do if you found a letter to a detective describing a crime and you knew the writer and detective were dead, and you could be next?

Sasquatch. Three things about us, you should know. One, we have seen the past. Two, we’re trapped there. Three, I don’t know if we’ll ever get back to our own time.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

For videos, see: Counselorssoapbox YouTube Video Channel

Effects of Alcohol last long after you sober up

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Alcoholic beverages.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Alcohol continues to affect you after it has left your bloodstream.

Researchers are finding that the effects of alcohol are not limited to what we see or experience while the alcohol is present in the bloodstream. Those effects continue long after the liver has removed the alcohol from the bloodstream. Here are some of the things researchers are reporting about the effects alcohol leaves behind after it has done its work.

One of these lingering effects increases the risk that alcoholics or those with an alcohol use disorder will drink again.

1. Hangovers impair your driving skills.

One study measured attention, coordination, and vigilance in college students the night after they had consumed enough alcohol to become legally intoxicated. Students were tested one day and then again the next. Some students were instructed to not drink alcohol overnight, others were allowed to drink to intoxication. The following week the groups switched. This allowed a comparison of how students did on the various tests after a night of drinking or no drinking.

This study was done in the college dorm to avoid increasing the number of drunk people out on the roads. I did not do this research, just reporting what I read.

The results?

Students who had drunk to intoxication, that would be enough alcohol to reach a point one zero blood alcohol content (.10), were just as impaired the next morning when their blood alcohol content had returned to zero as they had been the night before.

You are just as impaired with a hangover as when you are legally drunk!

Actually, many of the subjects in this experiment were in worse shape with a hangover than when they were legally drunk. Memory, attention, motor coordination even the ability to plan were all significantly affected.

2. Alcohol causes the blood-brain barrier to “leak.”

The purpose of the blood-brain barrier is to keep things out of the head that does not belong there. It also has to let things in that the brain needs. This functioning as the brain’s border patrol is hard work for that blood-brain barrier. When that Blood-Brain Barrier is under attack, under the influence of alcohol, it has trouble doing its job.

One thing that gets kept out of the brain when you have alcohol in your system is glucose. Your brain may only be 2% of your body but it uses 20% of the energy, so a shortage of fuel develops quickly while all those alien Alcohol molecules are storming the brain’s border.

This is why so many hangover remedies include sweet ingredients. Without energy, the brain can’t work efficiently.

3. Impaired coordination lasts a long time.

At some point, and that precise level is still debatable, high levels of alcohol in the bloodstream alter or damage the part of the brain that controls coordination. Evidence of this comes from several sources.

Chronic alcoholics exhibit unsteady gates even when they have undergone detox and their blood alcohol levels are at zero.

Children born with fetal alcohol syndrome, the most severe form of damage to a child as a result of the mother’s alcohol consumption, exhibit a particular form of uncoordination. When moving their arms they move them much more rapidly when close to the body than when farther away. There is also a decided jerkiness to their arm movements. All of this points to Alcohol causing impairment in the brain’s ability to regulate motion long after there has been any physical presence of alcohol.

This impairment in coordination lasts into adulthood.

4. Alcohol shrinks the brain’s size and volume.

The prefrontal lobes of the brain shrink about 11% in those who have abused alcohol over some period of time. Other parts of the brain shrink also, resulting in an expansion of those blood-filled spaces called Lateral Ventricles by as much as 42%.

I have not found a source that quantifies this as to how much alcohol over how long a time this takes to happen. What has been established, at least tentatively, is how much of the damage to the brain can be repaired.

The size of the lateral ventricles seems to shrink with sustained abstinence. The ventricles shrink and the surrounding brain tissue expands and or grows back a little but not all the way.  The damage to the prefrontal lobes does not seem to be repaired.

This results in many people in alcohol recovery having impaired executive functions. They need to learn or relearn planning, scheduling, and decision-making skills.

Combine the changes in the brain with the loss of coordination and the result is 33% to 50% of all those with an alcohol use disorder will have cognitive or motor disorders in addition to difficulty controlling their consumption of alcohol.

5. Alcohol lowers inhibitions long after it has exited the body.

Most of us know that alcohol lowers inhibitions and allows people to do and say things that they would not otherwise do. What has been discovered recently is that a pattern of recent heavy drinking increases that disinhibited behavior. The result is that drinking heavily even if only for a while increases the risk of your making poor decisions even during times when you are not drinking.

One researcher observed that this residual loss of control is one more reason that people with alcohol use disorders are at high risk of drinking again even when they are trying to stay sober.  The brain really has rewired itself and the part of the brain that says “do not do that” is off-line for an extended period of time after a recent episode of heavy drinking.

There are other long-term consequences of drinking alcohol but let’s leave that for a future post.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Seven David Joel Miller Books are available now!

My newest book is now available. It was my opportunity to try on a new genre. I’ve been working on this book for several years, but now seem like the right time to publish it.

Story Bureau.

Story Bureau is a thrilling Dystopian Post-Apocalyptic adventure in the Surviving the Apocalypse series.

Baldwin struggles to survive life in a post-apocalyptic world where the government controls everything.

As society collapses and his family gets plunged into poverty, Baldwin takes a job in the capital city, working for a government agency called the Story Bureau. He discovers the Story Bureau is not a benign news outlet but a sinister government plot to manipulate society.

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Dark Family Secrets: Doris wants to get her life back, but small-town prejudice could shatter her dreams.

Casino Robbery Arthur Mitchell escapes the trauma of watching his girlfriend die. But the killers know he’s a witness and want him dead.

Planned Accidents  The second Arthur Mitchell and Plutus mystery.

Letters from the Dead: The third in the Arthur Mitchell mystery series.

What would you do if you found a letter to a detective describing a crime and you knew the writer and detective were dead, and you could be next?

Sasquatch. Three things about us, you should know. One, we have seen the past. Two, we’re trapped there. Three, I don’t know if we’ll ever get back to our own time.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

For videos, see: Counselorssoapbox YouTube Video Channel