Shoreline Sober Living, San Diego, CA
How do drugs affect decision making

One of the many adverse side effects of being heavily under the influence of drugs is impaired judgement. Individuals find it a lot easier to completely abandon their responsibilities and focus solely on feelings in the moment, which can often lead to long-term negative impacts on an individual’s future.

As an individual becomes more and more dependent on the chemical reaction the drug and alcoholic substance causes in their body, which releases a euphoric feeling, the more dependent the individual becomes. Unfortunately, this will more times than not lead to a breakdown in their:

  • Social life
  • Friends
  • Family
  • Romantic relationships
  • Work-life
  • Responsibilities
  • And more

Brain-imaging studies in humans and neuropsychological studies in nonhuman animals have shown that repeated drug use causes disruptions in the brain’s highly evolved frontal cortex, which regulates cognitive activities such as decision-making, response inhibition, planning and memory.

Changes to the brain from addiction

The brain is a complex system composed of neurons that have been developed to communicate with each other through chemicals called neurotransmitters. This specific communication and connections control how an individual is to behave and think.

Addiction will begin to occur when the substance begins altering the level of neurotransmitters in the brain leading to the individual craving the highs the substance gives. In many cases, the abused substance will mimic the neurotransmitters and result in the communication becoming scrambled in the brain. In other cases, the substance being used will completely flood the individual’s brain with a more significant amount of dopamine naturally created by the body. The brain adores pleasurable activities and will therefore connect to said activities, leading to more dopamine, resulting in the individual wanting to repeat the activity more and more. The longer the drug abuse occurs, the harder it is for the individual to stop; this is due to the brain creating a solid connection to the activity that raises the dopamine levels.

The result of prolonged drug abuse is an altered brain that cannot, without medical intervention, stop abusing illicit substances. The chemical changes that occur to an individual’s brain are why it becomes so challenging for an individual to attempt to reach sobriety.

Behaviour changes

Due to the harmful substances altering the brain’s reward system, individuals addicted to drugs will go out of their way to ensure that they will get their next fix. Individuals are chasing the feeling of being rewarded, which ultimately puts them in a dangerous situation at the risk of getting high or feeling that euphoric feeling. Furthermore, addiction causes an individual to lose their self-control; the idea of setting lifelong positive goals does not reside with the addicted individual because the only thing that will bring the individual happiness and some peace is the harmful substances they are abusing. The individual will regret their actions and decision-making in the future, which will go one of two ways.

The individual will either:

  • Feel highly guilty for what they have done; their mental health will begin plummeting, which will result in them abusing more to deal with the intense feelings.
  • The individual is slightly aware of their actions, but unfortunately, they will not regret their decisions enough to stop the behavior and continue on their path.

Recovery is not an easy process; it takes a lot of patience, determination, and support to reach the road to sobriety; however, the rewards for the individual and their family are limitless.

Unhealed trauma and addictive behaviors

Drugs and alcohol offer individuals an escape from reality if they have dealt with traumatic situations and experiences that they have been unable to process. If an individual does not process their traumatic experiences, it can lead to:

  • Emotion dysregulation
  • Intense feelings of worthlessness
  • Strong desire to escape the world
  • Severe mental health issues

Individuals who have experienced prolonged trauma cannot see the harmful long-term effects on their brain, which leads to individuals convincing themselves they can control these thoughts and intense feelings by controlled drinking and drug use. Unfortunately, more likely than not, these individuals who believe they can self-medicate will become addicted; it will often be too late by the time they notice.

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