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How Substance Use Affects The Brain

substance use and your brain

When a substance like heroin, cocaine or alcohol is introduced into the body, the brain releases endorphins, which make you feel good, relieving the feelings of stress and pain and boosting happiness.

It’s similar to the good feeling you get after exercise, or a great accomplishment. The difference is substances trigger the brain in the frontal cortex that mimics the feeling of natural endorphins with more dramatic results. Over a long period of time, if an individual keeps using a substance, the brain doesn’t keep releasing the endorphins at the same rate.

Think of it like a pinball machine: putting a substance in the body is like the pinball, it goes through the machine causing hits, beeps, lights, and buzzers - that’s the brain reacting. After a while, when there is an addiction, an individual needs to put in more and more of the substance to get the same effect - also known as tolerance.

Increased tolerance can increase the risk of negative side effects. With a heroin addiction, for example, an addicted individual will keep injecting the substance to get more of the good feeling endorphins because they have built up a tolerance over time. But a body’s organs can’t handle as much of the substance as your brain can, and this is what leads to an overdose.

If you or a loved one need help for an addiction and want to know more about outpatient programs, or want to schedule an evaluation, feel free to contact us.

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