What happens to your brain on drugs?
Dr. Ruben Baler, health scientist with the National Institute on Drug Abuse, says it’s a learning process, and very difficult to unlearn. He spoke with WSKG’s Crystal Sarakas.
On what happens in the brain during addiction:
Actually, at the synapse level, at the level of the neurons, and the connecting points between neurons, the process is very similar to learning. [If] you ever learn how to ride a bicycle and you know how difficult it would be to unlearn how to ride the bicycle, this is pretty much what happens with addiction….This is why it’s so difficult to unlearn and why relapses are so frequent because this is something that the brain learns very profoundly.
Underlying biological risk for addiction is one of the things that today we know doctors should ask for when planning for a long-term pain management for chronic pain.
On how addiction affects young brain development:
Somewhere between 12 years of age and 23, 25 years of age there is this active peak of “brain programming,” if you will. So using the drug during that window of vulnerability really is like shuffling or reshuffling the letters in the keyboard that the person is using to program the brain.
Now, if you reshuffle the keyboard after the program is written – that is, when you’re an adult – you can expect some problems running the program. [We] call that “intoxication.” That would be temporary because the program is written. However, if you reshuffle the letters in the keyboard while you are actively programming your brain or writing those lines of code, you can expect some glitches or bugs to be embedded in the program. Those will be much harder to get rid of.