Many people remember the old commercials that showed a guy frying an egg. It would say, "This is your brain. This is your brain on drugs," as the egg started to sizzle. With that said, how drugs affect the brain is still a mystery to people. They might not cook the brain like the skillet cooked the egg, but they still cause a lot of harm.
Showing how drugs affect the brain is tricky because all classes of drugs do so differently. With that said, scientists have started to find a common link between most drugs and their effects. This link is in the mesolimbic pathway, which most people know as the reward center.
Drugs of all kinds act on the reward system in some way. It's the main reason why people develop an addiction. Rather than developing a dependency on a drug, they form an addiction to the sensory overload that the drug causes.
In fact, it's why people can develop an addiction to behaviors other than using drugs. They can develop an addiction to any action that causes pleasure, such as having sex, gambling, and shopping.
While it's true that how drugs affect the brain is through the reward pathway, the way that they do differs. That's why some drugs are more addictive than others. Some drugs increase the production of dopamine, which triggers a reward response that the brain adapts to. Others block the absorption of dopamine so that the brain continues to produce more, causing a chemical overload.
Some drugs even do both, which is why they cause the strongest addiction in people. However, the brain eventually becomes used to this high level of dopamine, which is tolerance. In the end, people need more of the drugs to get the same high. Constantly increasing the drug intake leads many people to overdose.
It's also worth pointing out that people can never experience the same high as their first time using drugs. That's where the term "chasing the dragon" comes from. Chasing that first high is the same as chasing an imaginary dragon. People can never catch it.
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