Harmful Effects of Drugs on the Brain

Harmful Effects of Drugs on the Brain

Drugs and health are a deadly combination. In medicine, certain drugs and substances are helpful, it's the intake of drugs for fun or leisure that can destroy an individual mentally and physically. Read on to learn more about the impact of drugs on your mental health...
PsycholoGenie Staff
The impact of drugs on one's brain can be summed up with this visual description: picture a raw egg sitting harmlessly on a table, now take a frying pan and smash it. The runny, destroyed and splashed everywhere mess, of egg white, yolk and shell is your brain on drugs. It's simple enough, drugs mess with your brain and extend their devious reach to other parts of your body, from there. Below, the most dangerous and addictive drugs are examined to elucidate the harmful effects of drugs on the brain.

Drugs and The Brain

The effects of drug consumption on the brain are divided, based on the drug substance, how it attacks the brain, the immediate or short-term impact and what can occur in the long run.


This liquid intoxicant is one of the oldest and most popularly used stimulants in the world. But since it is available freely everywhere, and there are legal limitations to its consumption, and it helps one relax and loosen up, how harmful can it be?

Alcohol enters the human body through the mouth. Made from fermented or distilled ethanol, it is very easily absorbed by the bloodstream and hence travels up to the brain, hidden in the blood. Now once in the brain, it acts as a neurotransmitter depressant. This means, the neurons or messengers in your brain slow down or cannot function correctly, hence your reaction time decreases, you can't concentrate and you feel as if you are floating, literally because your mind cannot tell you what and how to move your body parts.

Short-Term Impact
You need to breathe and who tells your chest muscles to breathe in and out? Your brain of course. Drown your brain with too much alcohol and soon it will forget essential tasks or send such messages very slowly. As such, too much alcohol in a short span of time can stop an individual's breathing and kill them or enter a coma.

Alcohol inhibits your brain's ability to make decisions and this can lead to disastrous actions on an individual's part. When sober, what seems like a very bad idea, can seem completely normal and in fact, should be done. A class example of such an act: drunk driving, killing others and oneself.

Long-Term Impact
Physically the brain is damaged. Frontal lobes deteriorate, ventricles can increase abnormally, even the brain's dimensions can reduce alarmingly. Mentally, you can lose the ability to remember or store memories. Learning new things or storing new information becomes very difficult.

The more you drink, the more tolerant you get to the effect of the alcohol, the more your daily intake increases. Hence after some point, your brain gets used to functioning in that way and will refuse to behave normally. Even trying to quit can send your brain into a shut-down mode, which is shown in the form of withdrawal symptoms.

Alcohol can severely damage the brain of an unborn child, if an expecting mother drinks. Parts of the brain such as cerebral cortex or the basal ganglia can be underdeveloped or small in size. The child can be brain damaged and mentally unfit for the rest of its life.


This little pink or blue pill is a chemically designed drug, which was originally intended to act as an appetite suppressant. But its harmful hidden qualities were discovered and it soon became popular as a 'forbidden' substance.

Ecstasy is taken as a pill and once in the body, makes the brain its predominant target. It fiddles with the serotonin releasers and serotonin absorption in the brain. Overall, it mimics the behavior of serotonin in the brain, causing the production of serotonin to decrease. Serotonin regulates moods and emotions, how much pain is felt - in short, various regular behavior of an individual. The long-term and short-term effects of Ecstasy are still being studied. This research is hampered by inadequate test results and statistics as well as difficulty in asserting the impact on a test subject.

Short-Term Impact
Emotions are heightened.

Long-Term Impact
  • The hippocampal region of the brain shrinks in size
  • Ability to remember or think is damaged
  • Attention span reduces
  • Permanently feeling dazed or confused
  • Chronic depression
  • Insomnia
Cocaine & Heroin

2 grainy little powdered substances that can snuff out a life or seriously scramble one's senses. Each powder can be addictive and life-threatening in terms of an overdose.

Heroin is taken intravenously or injected. Even mixing it with other substances does not dilute or reduce its effect, which acts in 7- 8 seconds at a maximum on entering the bloodstream. Heroin is also highly absorptive, it very quickly enters the bloodstream and from there rapidly crosses into the brain. The neurotransmitter dopamine is affected by the presence of heroin. Dopamine helps the brain understand pain, relaxation and pleasure. But the brain knows how much and when should dopamine be used. Heroin damages the brain's inhibitors and allows dopamine to flood the brain, sending off the wrong signals.

Cocaine, a deadly white powder can be inhaled or injected. When heated, it can be smoked in a pipe, as crack. Cocaine fiddles with the working of the dopamine transporters, which recycle used dopamine. They obstruct the transporters, such that dopamine keeps stimulating the brain again and again.

Short-Term Impact
Heroin can cause a feeling of well-being or relaxation, the individual is sent into a euphoric state. The excess dopamine levels trick the body into feeling no or little pain. The relaxed feeling can cause drowsiness or sleepiness and a lack of coordination.

Cocaine can cause the blood vessels to constrict, leading to a stroke. A rapid increase in blood pressure levels can occur, which could cause internal bleeding in the brain. The brain is over stimulated and hence cannot control motion and coordination. This accounts for the jittery, on-edge and continuous fidgeting that cocaine users show. Cocaine reduces the ability to judge situations and the abuser can be cocky and overconfident, even in the worst of situations.

Long-Term Impact
Heroin is a very addictive substance, 4-6 hours after 1 fix, you feel a desperate need for another. One try and you are hooked for life. And if your brain gets too relaxed, then important body functioning also gets turned off. You can enter a coma or get a seizure or just stop breathing and you won't feel anything because your body's warning signals are turned off. Tolerance also increases as your brain needs more and more heroin to give it that 'relaxed' kick.

The use of Cocaine results in a viscous circle. The brain becomes immune to its effects and hence desires more in the next dose. The next dose numbs the brain further and further, increasing the drug addiction cycle. Abusers oscillate between 'highs' of joy, confidence and power to 'crashes' of depression and sadness. An individual starts to hallucinate and the line between reality and imagination blurs and then altogether disappears. The ability to sleep in peace also deteriorates, with most addicts becoming insomniacs. The brain becomes wired to functioning in this haphazard manner and is unable to let go. Too much can kill you, once hooked too little can also kill you.

It's clear from the above listed deadly effects of drugs on the brain, that the human brain does not stand a chance against such harmful substances. Even withdrawing from such substances is a difficult and intensely painful process, often destroying the addict even more. With such consequences, both long and short term, can the message of drugs being harmful, get any clearer? What will it take, a complete mental breakdown or the loss of lives, be it an abuser or innocents around one? Stay away from drugs, one NO to drugs can save your life.