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    Stimulant Use and Brain Function


    The name stimulant somewhat describes itself, this is one of the reasons individuals seeking highs or euphoria choose these drugs in the first place. A stimulant intensifies alertness and awareness, attention and energy. When stimulants are abuse the user feels fantastic and euphoric. Stimulants also raise your blood pressure, increases your heart rate and breathing. Because of the way stimulants make a person feel especially when misusing them some people refer to them as 'uppers'.

    When stimulants are used as a prescribed treatment for certain medical conditions the changes in the brain are necessary. Stimulants are prescribed in doses that are safe and effective for the individual. The patient is always monitored by their physician especially if treatment is necessary for long term use.

    Stimulants aren't prescribed to patients today like they were in the past. When people started abusing them it became obvious that stimulants abuse could lead to addiction. It was then that the medical use for stimulants began to decline. Today there are only few health issues stimulants are prescribed for which includes narcolepsy, ADHD, obesity and depression. These stimulants are classified as a controlled substance and legally available by prescription.

    Examples of stimulants abused today are methamphetamines, cocaine, amphetamines, methylphenidate, and ecstasy. Ecstasy is also referred to as MDMA. Because of the effects stimulants have on the brain and the feelings experienced during use, many users can't wait to repeat the abuse.

    How Do Stimulants Affect the Brain?

    Everyone's brain contains around 100 billion neurons (nerve cells) that work continuously sending and receiving messages. Stimulants change the way nerve cells communicate or talk to each other. Nerve cells are also called neurons, they communicate with each other by sending messages. The way they send messages to each other is by releasing chemicals that are called neurotransmitters. The chemicals or neurotransmitters actually transmit signals to each other. These chemicals attach themselves to specific areas on the nerve cells (neurons). The specific areas located on the neurons are called receptors.

    There are many neurotransmitters (chemicals) in our brain but when we use most stimulants dopamine is the neurotransmitter that is affected. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter (chemical) in the brain that is responsible for making us feel good. Stimulant use causes dopamine (chemical) to accumulate in the brain, which is responsible for the rush of euphoria that's experienced when a person abuses a stimulant like crystal meth.

    All drugs are chemicals and when they're used the chemical reaches the brain and taps into communication system. The drug (chemical) then interferes with the normal process of sending and receiving messages between the nerve cells. All drugs have their own chemical structure so they don't all affect the brain the same way.

    Stimulants and Behavior

    When misusing stimulants because of the changes that take place in the brain increased dopamine causes the user to feel overly happy and euphoric. The user becomes more alert and wide awake, full of energy and anxious. Some people also experience a decrease in appetite and irritability. The symptoms listed above are short term symptoms of behavior, before the user becomes tolerant and dependent. There are long term symptoms and these stem from repeated stimulant abuse.

    When an individual repeats the misuse of stimulants their behaviors change. Repeated use causes your brain to become tolerant of the stimulant you're misusing and you now need to increase the amount to experience the same high. Your brain has gotten use to releasing large amounts of dopamine to create the high you once received and has lost the ability to function normally on its own. This is when the user has become dependent on the drug or addicted. The sooner the individual receives help and treatment the better but most people increase their dose and need to use the stimulant more often.

    Long term misuse of stimulants causes more intense and severe behavior changes. Not only does the user become addicted to the stimulant they're abusing but now they experience compulsive cravings. Since the user has become tolerant and dependent they are abusing higher doses and more often. The user now may start experiencing weird and unpredictable behavior.

    Behavior changes caused from repeated abuse depends on the stimulant that's been misused. Panic attacks and paranoid psychosis are behavior symptoms for individuals addicted to cocaine. Repeated misuse of methamphetamines can cause intense violent behavior, attitude and mood changes, and psychosis (mental illness). Sometimes the individual becomes delusional and suffers with hallucinations (hearing voices) from repeated abuse of meth. Examples of Stimulants include:

    1. Cocaine
    2. Crack cocaine
    3. Methamphetamine
    4. Methylphenidate such as Concerta and Ritalin
    5. Amphetamines such as Adderall and Dexedrine
    6. Ecstasy (MDMA)

    Abusing or misusing stimulant drugs is very dangerous and for some people, changes in the brain could be irreversible. Combining drugs especially chronic long term use, brain function could become impaired permanently.

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