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Drugs and the brain
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Drugs and the brain

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  • 1. By Mike Piskel Glenbrook North Brain Studies instructor
  • 2. Why do people take drugs (including alcohol)?  Escape.  Because of Stress. (to help relax)  To reduce pain both physical and emotional (to feel better.)  Curiosity.  Recreation- excitement-energy.  To be social/lose inhibitions/fit in.  Addiction.
  • 3. Imagine if every time someone took drugs or alcohol it felt like this?
  • 4. Based on the reasons given and their real effects on the mind and body drugs must offer us something. In other words… they work! If they didn’t … they do in fact create at least a temporary change in how we feel and act.
  • 5. So…How do drugs work? In order to understand how drugs work, you have to understand how neurons work.  Brain Basics:The brain consists of many different types of cells; the cells involved in storing and processing information are called neurons.  Neurons look a lot like trees and their form fits their function.  Think about what trees do over their life, they grow new branches and roots. So do neurons.
  • 6. The basic neuron  Neurons communicate with each other throughout the brain and body by both electrical signals through the neuron and chemical messages between them.
  • 7. Neurons are dynamic: they can change over time with experiences.  Over time they grow to form networks of communications through their branches.
  • 8. Neurons work together, and by signaling each other in networks, we learn to perceive our world.  These networks create our perceptions, thoughts, and memories.  Consider the brain then as a forest of specialized cells (neurons) with pathways (connections) through it that take us to different experiences.
  • 9. Many of these networks are in parts of the brain that are specialized for different processing and perceptions  Some parts of the brain send or receive messages from the body. (sensory and motor neurons)  Some parts of the brain send and receive messages to other parts of the brain.  Some parts of the brain are analytical while others create our moods and emotions.  All of these connections require that the brain use chemical signals between the various neurons.
  • 10. The way to understanding drugs effects on the brain is to understand the chemical messages being sent by Neurons.  Do you know the name of the chemical messengers in the brain?
  • 11. These chemical messages are called neurotransmitters.  There are many types of neurotransmitters. They work on a lock and key model.
  • 12. You may have heard of some of the types of neurotransmitters.  Examples include:  Endorphins: The body’s natural pain killers  Serotonin: a calming/relaxing focusing neurotransmitter that is one of the most common in the brain.  Dopamine: A reward neurotransmitter that causes parts of the brain to fire creating a sensation of excitability, energy, power.  Substance P: signals pain in the brain.  Nor epinephrine: (a chemical in adrenaline) causing hyper-vigilance and excitability.
  • 13. All neurotransmitters have specific functions and roles in the brain. Science has identified over 100 different types of neurotransmitters but predict there may be many more.
  • 14. So… how do neurotransmitters relate to the way drugs and alcohol work on our brains?  They work one of 3 possible ways:  #1 The drug can chemically resemble and work like the actual neurotransmitter.  #2 The drug can stimulate neurons to release their neurotransmitters.  #3 The drug can prevent the reuptake of neurotransmitters by the signaling neuron.
  • 15. Example: Ecstasy  Ecstasy aka: xtc, mdma, is a common drug used at raves.  It works by blocking the reuptake of the neurotransmitter, serotonin, causing an increase in the amount of serotonin to signal other neurons in the brain to fire, changing their perceptions.  The individual may then experience increased energy, euphoria, and the suppression of certain inhibitions in relating to other people. In other words, they get high.
  • 16. So… if drugs and alcohol work like the actual neurotransmitters or work with the brain, why then can they be a bad choice for us? Your ideas?
  • 17.  As you indicated drugs and alcohol can be:  illegal, addictive, change perception to the point of intoxication causing people to make poor decisions, they have serious side effects both physical and emotional, it should also be noted from a brain science perspective that they also can cause serious brain chemical imbalance issues..
  • 18. When the brain chemistry becomes out of balance this can lead to mental/emotional disease and other brain disorders. These changes can become long lasting.
  • 19. It is important to note that some drugs can actually provide benefits to certain individuals.  Prescription drugs to individuals suffering from a physical or mental disorder. They are controlled, monitored and legal.  Many carry with them side effects. Despite side effects, the benefits can outweigh the detriments of the drug.  Examples include: antidepressants (SSRI), muscle relaxers, pain killers, medical marijuana
  • 20. If drugs and alcohol work by imitating, or releasing more neurotransmitters; doesn’t that mean the brain must already have the ability to achieve feelings of relaxation, well being, energy and excitability on its own?
  • 21. Obviously the answer is yes!  Our brain has the potential to reward itself.  This is how we are often motivated to do things that require effort.  Many people already take advantage of this on some level.  You can too.
  • 22. What is it called when we do something without the use of drugs/alcohol that makes us feel good, happy, relaxed, excited, or content?
  • 23. Natural Highs
  • 24. Natural Highs …  are created by your own brain chemistry without the use of drugs or alcohol.  work by the release of neurotransmitters under authentic experiences.  are free of harmful side physical and mental effects.  Can create positive addictions that benefit the overall well being of the individual.  are legal in all 50 states. 
  • 25. Examples
  • 26. Doing exciting things can release adrenaline and dopamine creating a controlled rush of energy and euphoria.)
  • 27. Because we are complex social organisms we have evolved a brain that allows us to reward ourselves for doing things for others. When we help others our brain releases endorphins, and the neurotransmitter dopamine, these neurotransmitters hit a reward button in our brain.
  • 28. Meditation releases stress by reducing/balancing stress hormones and releasing serotonin throughout the brain.  Regular daily meditation can create tremendous feelings of well being, peace and tranquility that carry over into the rest of your day.
  • 29. Regular strenuous exercise creates a complex natural high, releasing endorphins, dopamine and serotonin. This elevates energy, mood, endurance, and tremendous mind and body benefits.
  • 30. College Study  In a controlled study, college students who exercised regularly decreased their binge drinking by 30%.  Those who meditated decreased their binge drinking by 30%.  Those who both meditated and exercised regularly decreased their binge drinking by 60%.  Why?
  • 31. Hobbies/avocations let us escape the everyday stressors  They keep us in the moment.  They can be very rewarding.  They can be exhilarating.  Release dopamine, serotonin, adrenaline.  Provide us with something to anticipate.
  • 32. Other Natural Highs  Travel  Listening to music.  Attending shows/concerts/movies.  Performing music, plays.  Writing & Reading  Getting a massage  Pets  Being outdoors  Falling in Love  Celebrations/parties  Performing/attending sporting events.  Dancing  Creating art.  And many more.
  • 33. So why don’t people just use natural highs instead of drugs and alcohol? Good Question! Natural highs require some effort, knowledge and commitment. Find something you want and like to do. Work at it, practice it, learn about it. And you will be able to …
  • 34. Enjoy your brain and exploit its potential to bring you peace of mind, happiness, and physical well being for a lifetime.