Can Drug And Alcohol Abuse Cause Brain Damage?

Drugs and alcohol often serve as an escape from reality, and do so by changing the way the brain operates. Sometimes those changes result in permanent, irreversible brain damage.

Can Drug And Alcohol Abuse Cause Brain Damage?

Drugs and alcohol are linked to countless diseases, injuries and medical conditions. Repeated substance abuse can lead to addiction, and long term health risks, including brain damage.

Drugs and alcohol act as toxins to the body. They disrupt normal functioning in the brain, distorting reality and result in feelings of euphoria.

Disrupting normal function in the brain is extremely dangerous, because, over time, these disruptions can become both semi-permanent and permanent. Repeated or long-term substance abuse raise these risks significantly.

Brain Damage From Drugs and Alcohol

There are a number of ways that drugs and alcohol can damage the brain. Some of the effects of drugs and alcohol in the brain can occur after one use, while others may materialize after long term or heavy use.

The specifics of brain damage often depends on the substance used, length of use, and method of ingesting. Nearly all forms of brain damage are the result of one or more of the following:

  • oxygen deprivation
  • lack of nutrients to sustain brain tissue
  • altering brain chemical levels, neurotransmitters and hormones
  • directly damaging, injuring, or death of brain cells, neurons, and receptors

Drugs and alcohol tend to impact the chemical levels of the brain, resulting in significant changes in brain function. When brain function changes, it can change mental status, physical abilities, thought processes and even the personality of the individual.

The brain thrives with consistency. The brain is made of up interconnections of neurons and each section of the brain communicates using these pathways. This is how learning occurs, personality develops, abilities are maintained and functioning occurs. Drugs and alcohol disrupt all of this.

Alcoholic Dementia, Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome And Alcohol Addiction

Individuals who abuse alcohol often struggle with malnutrition, and lack of proper nutrients can result in a number of issues.

Alcohol affects the body’s ability to absorb vitamin B1, also known as thiamine. Thiamine is necessary for proper brain function, as well as heart and liver function.

Thiamine deficiency can result in Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, a combination of Wernicke encephalopathy and Korsakoff’s psychosis. Other forms of encephalopathy can occur with alcoholism, resulting in a buildup of toxins in the brain.

Individuals addicted to alcohol are also at risk for a form of dementia referred to as Alcoholic Dementia, caused by brain cell damage due to alcohol.

Korsakoff’s Psychosis and Alcoholic Dementia are irreversible consequences of alcohol abuse and addiction. Exposure to alcohol in utero also has irreversible effects on brain function.

Psychopathology And Marijuana

Some studies have indicated that there is little evidence to connect marijuana and brain damage. However, there have been other studies that suggest marijuana use can trigger psychosis in individuals predisposed to schizophrenia or other mental health diagnosis.

Other studies have linked marijuana use to lower dopamine levels, reduction in size of the structure of the hippocampus, right anterior cingulate gyrus and amygdala, as well as negative impact on the mediotemporal lobe and variations in cannabinoid receptors.

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Opioids And Brain Death

Opioids act as a depressant on the central nervous system (CNS), and often result in significantly depressant respiration. This can result in a decrease of oxygen in the bloodstream, resulting in the brain becoming oxygen deprived.

Hypoxia is usually considered sudden oxygen deprivation that occurs with opioid overdose, but it can also be the result of long term opioid use. Hypoxia of either kind can result in brain damage that is largely irreversible.

Hallucinogens And Sensory Perception Malfunctions

Hallucinogenic drugs, such as LSD, psilocybin, peyote, ayahuasca, DMT or MDMA, can cause visual and auditory hallucinations. Some individuals experience residual hallucinations after the drug has left the system, sometimes for several years.

These continued visual hallucinations and echoing could be a result of damage to the visual area of the brain (occipital lobe) or the enzymes responsible for perception and vision. Research continues to explore this phenomena, as it is not well understood.

Stimulants And Lack Of Pleasure

Drugs like methamphetamine, cocaine, Adderall and ecstasy affect dopamine and dopamine receptors in the brain. Long term use can result in neurotransmitter and receptor damage, and even death.

Dopamine cell death can result in a person being unable to experience pleasure or happiness without using a stimulant drug. This often leads to severe depression, self-harming or self-destructive behaviors, and even suicidal thoughts.

Warning Signs Of Drug Or Alcohol Induced Brain Damage

If someone you know is struggling with alcohol or drug addiction, they are at risk for developing brain damage. Some of the warning signs to be aware of include:

  • delayed reactions
  • severe memory problems
  • hallucinations
  • lack of coordination
  • problems thinking

Sometimes these effects are a direct result of drug or alcohol consumption, but they may also occur after a seizure, stroke or overdose. Whether or not these symptoms are permanent depends on a number of factors.

Is Drug or Alcohol Induced Brain Damage Reversible?

There are many different types of brain damage that can occur as a result of drug and alcohol abuse. Damage that is the result of missing nutrients that is caught in the early stages of brain damage have a chance of being reversed.

Extensive brain damage, cell death or brain damage due to injuries due to intoxication are often times irreversible. Alternative options may be available, rehabilitation can help.

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Treatment For Addiction Induced Brain Damage

It is difficult to determine the level of brain damage that has occurred if a person is still abusing drugs or alcohol. Sobriety is an important step in determining what, if any, long-term damage has been sustained.

Finding a substance abuse treatment program that includes a detox program can help restore nutrients and vitamins that are vital to brain function. Once balance has been restored, a thorough assessment can be completed to determine the level of brain damage has occurred.

During this assessment, a treatment plan can be established that will work toward healing as much of the damage as possible, and using therapeutic interventions to help a person adjust to sober life with whatever permanent damage may exist.

Getting treatment is the first step toward recovery. Reach out to our trained staff today, so we can help find a program that meets your unique needs.

American Opioid Epidemic - https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=1GCLDwAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PA79&dq=opioid+use+hypoxia+long+term&ots=pCG7x0vsT0&sig=qM8CYSmb3gq3ybkR3OYsIS0KDIU#v=onepage&q=opioid%20use%20hypoxia%20long%20term&f=false

Birth Defects Research - https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/bdr2.1172

British Journal of Psychiatry - https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/the-british-journal-of-psychiatry/article/gross-morphological-brain-changes-with-chronic-heavy-cannabis-use/EAF90DEEAA689A62EBBF1378A54996CC

eNeuro - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5661359/

Hallucinations in Psychoses and Affective Disorders - https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-319-75124-5_2

National Institutes of Health - https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/aa63/aa63.htm

National Institutes of Health - https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh27-2/134-142.htm

Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging - https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0925492715301190

Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging - https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0925492716300531

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