The Effects of Drug Use on the Adolescent Brain
In the past fifteen years, school districts across the United States have raised awareness of the harmful effects of drug use on the human body, on adolescents in particular. How do drugs damage a teenager’s brain? The function of neurotransmitters in the teenage brain is often targeted and altered by psychoactive substances. The interference of neurotransmitters can directly damage the fragile developing neural connections, and the use of these substances alters perception and may interfere with developing perceptual skills. Raising awareness of such irreversible effects is crucial to decreasing drug use in the teen population.
The brain is made up of billions of nerve cells. Nerves control everything from when the heart beats to what we feel, think, and do. Nerves do this by sending electrical signals throughout the body. The signals get passed from nerve to nerve by chemical messengers called “neurotransmitters.” For example, some of the signals that neurotransmitters send cause a feeling of satisfaction or pleasure. These natural rewards are the body's way of making sure we look for more of what makes us feel good. The main neurotransmitter of the "feel-good" message is called dopamine. Some drugs, like heroin and LSD, mimic the effects of the natural neurotransmitter. Others, like PCP, block receptors and thereby prevent neuronal messages from getting through. Still others, like cocaine, interfere with the molecules that transport neurotransmitters back into the neurons that released them. Finally, some drugs, such as Methamphetamine, act by causing neurotransmitters to be released in greater amounts than normal. In response to too high of dopamine levels, the brain system tries to right the balance by allowing fewer dopamine neurotransmitters to fire or signal through. The continued use of the drug leads to tolerance; to experience the same effects, the user must continue to use the drugs. When the...
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