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The Teen Brain, Addiction, and Drug Rehab

Posted on 15. May, 2014 by in Alcohol & Drug Abuse

The reason why medication for psychological illness, like antidepressants, work so well is because they adjust the chemicals in the brain. Antidepressants and other psychotropic medication affect the levels of dopamine and serotonin, which influence mood stability.

However, drugs are chemicals too. They also affect the brain’s ability to regulate mood, one’s perception of the environment, and the way the five senses function. Drugs interfere with the way the neurons in the brain communicate with each other. In fact, the brain is one large network of communication. There are billions of neurons and nerve cells that are forever taking in information and passing it along to other neurons. In order for one neuron to communicate with another, it creates a chemical, called neurotransmitters. As that neurotransmitter attaches to the part of the cell in the brain called the receptor, they operate like a key and lock. In this way, the brain makes sure that each receptor will receive the right kind of neurotransmitter. Once the neurotransmitters do their job, they are pulled back into their original neuron from which they came. When it returns, this process shuts off the messaging signal taking place between neurons.

However, when drugs are introduced into the brain, they affect the ability for neurons to communicate with one another. This is particularly dangerous for teens because the signaling and communication that is happening in the brain is on fire during adolescence. The adolescent brain is undergoing incredible growth. Neurons are wiring and new connections between the two hemispheres of the brain are forming.  This kind of growth and connection forming is in an explosive time during adolescence. If the brain can continue to be plastic, that is if new neural connections can continue to form and if old ones can be released, this is can support healthy brain function and mental health. These neural connections and adaptability are important in a person’s learning, behavior, and mood regulation.

However, some drugs, such as marijuana and heroin, will mimic a neurotransmitter and in a way “fool” a receptor. The drug will lock onto the receptors and activate the nerve cells. However, because the drug is not the neurotransmitter that is intended for that receptor, the neurons end up sending abnormal messages throughout the brain. Of course, this leads to hallucination, abnormal thoughts, and change in perception.

Other drugs, such as cocaine can cause the release an excessive amount of a particular neurotransmitter. For instance, the rush of dopamine that cocaine releases when a teen chooses to ingest it is dangerous, leading to permanent alterations in the way the brain processes dopamine in the future.  Also, the abuse of cocaine among teens is particularly dangerous, primarily because the adolescent brain is still developing. Research indicates that teens are extremely vulnerable to the addictive quality of cocaine. Studies at Yale University indicate that neurons in the brain and their synaptic connections change shape when first exposed to cocaine. The structural changes point out that that the neurons are attempting to protect themselves when the presence of cocaine enters the body.

Most drugs, however, activate the brain’s reward system, which is the key to addiction. This reward system can perpetuate the need for the drug until it becomes the sole focus of a teen’s life to the exclusion and detriment of other life-activities.

Teen drug rehab can help break down the reward system of the brain and an addiction. In turn, no longer using a drug can help restore some of the damage that takes place between neurons in the brain. However, some damage can never be repaired. Nonetheless, addiction is treatable.  Even for those teens who are required to seek treatment by law, research indicates that treatment for addiction in these cases are also effective.




Drug Facts: Brain and Addiction. NIDA for Teens: The Science Behind Drug Abuse. Retrieved on May 14, 2014 from: http://teens.drugabuse.gov/drug-facts/brain-and-addiction



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