Different kinds of substance abuse are often lumped together, and while they are all harmful, the effects of various substances differ significantly. In saying that, t’s essential to know the changes that drugs and alcohol can elicit in your body and mind. If you are aware of the effects that these substances create in your body, then you can work towards efficiently counteracting them and beating your addiction.
Alcohol is a depressant, while different kinds of drugs can fall into various categories. In this blog post, we’re going to discuss the two biggest categories: depressants and stimulants.
Alcohol: A Depressant Across the Board
The term “depressant” doesn’t just refer to your mood; it also refers to the physical processes in the body. Alcohol addiction is closely related to depression because the constant consumption of a depressant has a long-term effect on mood, causing various mood disorders and physical maladies. It essentially means that alcohol slows things down or makes them stop working altogether.
As a person drinks, alcohol will permeate more and more parts of the brain, inhibiting its operation by disrupting the transmission of neurotransmitters (chemicals in your brain that are necessary for proper function). This is what causes those symptoms of drunkenness we all know so well. Here are some symptoms, and the parts of the brain they are related to:
- Relaxation – Alcohol binds to something called a GABA receptor in the brain, helping to boost serotonin and create a relaxed, uninhibited state of mind.
- Poor judgement – Your prefrontal cerebral cortex is responsible for helping you to make rational decisions. Alcohol slows this part of the brain down, leading to silly behaviour at best and damaging actions at worst.
- Intense emotions – One of the lesser-known effects of alcohol is the changes it can wreak on the limbic system, the part of your brain responsible for emotional regulation. When this slows down, emotions can become much more intense, resulting in tears, anger, or giggliness.
- Disrupted memory – The hippocampus, which stores and regulates memory, gets battered by the presence of alcohol. This can result in blackouts, especially during episodes of heavy drinking.
If you struggle with alcohol dependency, the depressant effects of alcohol can permanently alter your brain in negative ways. For example, the serotonin receptors (where your brain receives happy chemicals) will become dulled, making it much harder to feel happy. This is why so many recovering alcoholics experience depression.
Stimulant Drugs: The Brain Going Haywire
Stimulants aren’t the only kind of drugs—hallucinogens and opioids are also an issue for many—but we’re going to talk about them here as a direct contrast to depressants.
A stimulant, such as cocaine or crystal methamphetamine, makes people incredibly energetic. They are used in the pharmaceutical industry to treat conditions like ADHD (Ritalin or Adderall), but only in highly regulated doses. If doses aren’t controlled, stimulants can lead to heart disease and seizures.
Stimulants work by skyrocketing the amount of dopamine in the brain, lighting up the brain’s reward pathway. Because of its incredible effect on this pathway, users can become addicted very quickly. Some symptoms of stimulant use in the short-term include:
- Increased wakefulness – your body is far less likely to release melatonin, no matter how long you’ve been awake, so you feel incredibly hopped up and energised.
- Increased respiration – your heartbeat, breathing and blood pressure all go up in response to stimulants, making you feel more physically awake or active.
- Decreased appetite – by binding to dopamine receptors, stimulants prevent the release of hunger hormones, so your appetite decreases exponentially.
In the long-term, your mind deteriorates. Memory loss, insomnia, paranoia and hallucinations are all common in stimulant abusers, all because their brains have been battered into operating in overdrive. These people can also experience deep depression when starting their recovery, as their dopamine receptors have become desensitised.
No matter what kind of addiction you’ve been struggling with, there is a way out. By building a support system of professionals and caring friends or family, as well as implementing coping strategies for addictive and depressive behaviour, you can find your way out of the maze.
Begin your journey with Zen Detox.
As one of the best wellness retreats in New Zealand, we can offer a peaceful environment with dedicated professionals to help you on your journey to recovery. Take control of your life, and start today!