Mental Health Month: A Critical Eye on How Drugs Affect the Mind

Drug addiction is a scourge – but we must rationally separate the disease from the person. For decades, this country has operated under the guise that addiction corrupts people and marks them as worthless to society due to their inability to provide economically. It gives up on many who become addicted, and in general, society looks towards people struggling with addiction as flawed or dangerous, or both. Despite advances in human rights, there is still a powerful stigma against not just addiction itself, but those whose mental health suffers under it.

Rectifying this is paramount to a society where addiction is less of a problem, and potentially eliminated. Often, addiction is identified as a chronic brain disease and can affect mental health. While food and sex addiction exist, it is very rare and separated from drug addiction through the distinction of addictiveness. Things like sugar, sex and gambling can turn into an emotional dependency, but physical dependency to drugs like alcohol and heroin is caused by how your brain interprets and reacts to these substances.

Understanding how the brain reacts to drugs – and understanding the mental health of people struggling with addiction – can help people distinguish the disease from the person, and set aside moralistic ideas for a better, more scientific approach.


Drugs And Your Mental Health

Drugs affect the your mental health because they bind to specific receptors in your brain’s cells. Basically, the structure of a cell is as such that it has certain ports for the entry and exit of different intracellular elements. In the brain, brain cells have ports that receive neurotransmitters. These neurotransmitters affect the way you feel and think and play a role in many other physical and autonomous functions.

What drugs do is they bind to the cells in the guise of natural neurotransmitters, thus making you feel a certain way.

Taking alcohol as an example, once alcohol enters the bloodstream, some of it passes through the blood-brain barrier – a special membrane to keep most foreign elements out of the brain – and it attaches itself to the neurons’ GABA, serotonin, NMDA (memory) and acetylcholine receptors. GABA is a neurotransmitter that affects the way you move – as an agonist, alcohol’s effects on the brain through the GABA receptor lead to slurred speech and trouble walking.

As it also binds to serotonin, on top of releasing your inhibitions and slowing you down, it also makes you feel good – being tipsy is the combination of alcohol’s effect on your chemical happiness, combined with the way it alters your brain’s ability to control movement.

A separate effect happens with each drug commonly used today. Opioids slow the body’s respiratory system and numb pain, while inducing euphoria. Stimulants like cocaine give you a massive jolt in both happiness and motivation, while taxing the heart muscle and reducing appetite.

These drugs are all highly addictive, and completely different from hallucinogens like LSD or magic mushrooms, but all impact your mental health in a negative way.


How Addiction Starts

Psychoactive drugs include anything that manipulates or changes the way you think drastically. Sugar isn’t psychoactive, even though the consumption of sugar naturally releases endorphins. Caffeine, however, is psychoactive, even though its effects while consumed as a beverage like coffee or tea are negligible and cannot be classified as clinically addictive.

LSD is also psychoactive, but not addictive – while it also binds to the serotonin receptors in the brain, LSD has not reportedly been the cause of any overdose or addiction, and its main attraction is its ability to induce vivid visual hallucination.

What sets drugs like alcohol and heroin aside from the rest is the sheer overwhelming power with which it attacks your brain. Caffeine can make you feel a bit more productive and increase anxiety slightly at high dosages, but alcohol will change the way your brain functions and alter your brain’s structure through repeated excessive use. The same goes for heroin, cocaine, nicotine, and other addictive drugs. Their effects cause the brain much stress, and as a coping mechanism, it tries hard to develop a tolerance against said mental health effects.

This tolerance backfires, however, as it also deadens your brain towards many other sensations. In short, as an addiction progresses, it becomes the only thing in life that still satisfies you, and this produces an emotional and psychological obsession that affects your mental health. Addiction is born.


Why Addiction Is Hard To Beat

Addiction is a matter of both emotional and physical dependence. As an addiction progresses, the brain and the body have a harder and harder time to let go of the drug and live without it. Attempting to do so without waning off first might lead to symptoms of withdrawal, which range from flu-like with drugs like heroin, to possibly fatal for drugs like alcohol.

Emotionally, addiction either causes or is caused by a need to escape from reality, making the prospect of completely committing to reality through sobriety both very daunting, and not very attractive.

Getting high keeps you happy and staves off the shakes and the pain. Going sober only makes your body crave the drug more, to the point where you feel like a thirsty man in a hot desert, with no sign of water or civilization in view anywhere, on any horizon.

The mental health and motivation necessary to overcome that feeling must be immense, which is where addiction treatment jumps in.


Getting The Help You Need

Addiction treatment has come a very long way from the days of old, and we’ve developed countless psychiatric and medical tools to help combat the effects of addiction, in some cases lessen the power a drug has over a person and utilize therapeutic tools – from alternative medicine to talk therapy – to develop a patient’s mindfulness and get them through the early days of recovery.

A unique mix of factors surrounds each case of addiction: causes, circumstances, possibilities, and more. Reputable professionals evaluate these factors and develop a treatment plan concurrent to each case, without opting for a cookie-cutter approach. To combat addiction effectively, the medical and mental health community recognizes that specificity matters.

All roads lead to Rome – choosing the one right for you may take time, but if you don’t stop moving forward, you will get to your destination. In the case of addiction, that destination is the point at which you’ve become completely comfortable with your sobriety, and no longer fear relapse. It can take months, years, or decades – but each step of the way is worth the effort it took to make that step.

How Do Drugs Affect You Mentally?

How Drugs Affect You | Transcend Texas

Hallucinogens, painkillers, depressants, stimulants. Illegal and legal drugs alike come in all shapes and sizes, in liquid, gas and solid forms, and can be found in a cabinet at a doctor’s office, the commercial refrigerators of a 7-Eleven, or in the jacket pocket of a shady businessman. In every person’s life, drugs affect you or play a part in some chapter, existing between the lines.

Drugs have an impact not only on individuals and society, but on the economy, amounting to billions of dollars lost in productivity, absenteeism, and death. Drugs affect men, women, and children from all walks of life. And there is no clear answer on how to deal with the problem.

However, on an individual level, there’s a lot that can be done about how drugs affect you. Treatments and therapies exist to help people turn their lives around and start fighting addiction. The physical and mental effects of drug use can be mitigated, and even partially reversed. Over years, diligence and support can turn a tragedy into a story of personal triumph – and all it takes to begin with is the will to take a brave first step into a different kind of living.

But to really fight drugs on an even playing field, you have to understand what they do and how drugs affect you. It’s no secret that drugs affect the mind, but understanding how can give you the comfort and power you need to do something about it, and motivate you to keep moving forward even when times are tough.


Substance Use And The Brain

In essence, all drugs have a distinct negative impact on the brain, and achieve this in much the same way. While drugs can be ingested, inhaled, injected, and otherwise consumed, they all eventually make their way into the bloodstream through one method or another. It’s there that drugs cross the blood-brain barrier – an incredibly selective membrane that usually protects the fluid in the brain and CNS from most things in the bloodstream – and begin to affect the brain.

When drugs affect you they must cross the blood-brain barrier to actually do anything. And that is what makes them dangerous. Drugs mimic the body’s own pre-existing neurotransmitters, and attach themselves to neurons, sending certain signals throughout the brain. For example: cocaine is an incredibly popular drug because it causes an elevated state of happiness, excitement, and motivation.

It does this by binding to transporters in the neurons that are responsible for transmitting dopamine from one cell to the next. Dopamine accumulates in your synapses, prolonging its effects in the pleasure center of the brain.

This interaction with the brain is not what makes cocaine physically dangerous – however, it is what makes cocaine so addictive. This same principle goes for all other cases where drugs affect you, but in different ways. Alcohol and benzodiazepines, for example, are depressants. They are opposite to a stimulant like cocaine, but still addictive.

Alcohol works on three levels, or three separate neurotransmitters, throughout different parts of the brain. It increases the effects of GABA (causing slurred speech and lack of coordination), inhibits glutamate (causing a slowdown in movement and thinking), and increases dopamine release (causing pleasure). By spreading throughout the brain, alcohol will affect your balance, your breathing, your senses, and even your sexual performance.

Yet only one of these effects contributes to the addictive properties of the drug: its effects on the pleasure center of the brain.

Stimulants can excite your body and heighten your senses, depressants can slow you down and make you sluggish, and painkillers like morphine can greatly reduce or eliminate pain signals – but all of these drugs affect your pleasure center in the same way, increasing the release or retention of dopamine in your cells, and causing feelings of pleasure, joy, and euphoria.

These positive emotions mask the darker side effects of each and every drug – namely, their deleterious effects on both mental and physical health, and the nature of addiction as self-destructive behavior.

Stimulants can stop your heart and damage your brain when the drugs affect you. Alcohol greatly damages the liver and kidneys, and leads to cancer. Opioids like morphine and heroin cause respiratory depression, and death through oxygen deprivation. And because of the interaction between these drugs and the pleasure center of the brain, all drug use eventually leads to addiction, unless it stops beforehand.


How Drugs Affect You & Your Thinking

Drug use not only causes feelings of joy, but can damage your mental health and put you on the path of an addictive loop. For example: excessive use of drugs affect you and will corrupt the pleasure center and make most other activities meaningless or unenjoyable. Old habits fall away, and even the most basic wants can slip away in favor of drugs. The biggest difficulty for many who choose to give up addiction is finding something else to make them happy, because continuous drug use makes the brain forget what normal pleasures feel like.

Most drugs affect you and your thinking in other ways, namely dampening your cognitive abilities and cutting into your memory. Frequent black-outs from excessive drug use will also affect your ability to recall even the most basic and recent memories, and prolonged usage leads to both long-term brain damage and higher chances of mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, and personality disorders like paranoia. If a person has a genetic predisposition towards certain mental health issues, addiction may drive these disorders into the forefront.


Addiction Needs To Be Fought

Addiction exercises a powerful hold over a person’s mind, because of how drugs affect you and the strain on the brain. The pleasure center is highly involved with concepts like will, motivation, and reason – we work hard to satisfy our emotional and physical needs, and addiction overwrites many of those needs with a new protocol.

Driving that out, denying it and building a whole new life around sobriety does not happen overnight, or even just in a matter of a few weeks. It takes months and years, and the journey is harder for some than it is for others. However, while addiction never fully goes away – and resisting any urge to use again is something former addicts have to live with – it does get easier with time. And in time, even the worst days of the addiction can become just another detail in a long life lived well.


Addressing Trauma And Addiction Together

Trauma And Addiction | Transcend Texas

Trauma and Addiction are unfortunately common and linked at the hip. We live in a violent world, one where a majority of the population has at one point or another experienced personal grief and loss at the hands of domestic violence, child abuse, war, rape, accidents or natural disasters. Most people experience these things and go on with their lives, that memory living on with them forever. They are traumatized, but the trauma fades within months.

Some people, however, get stuck on the moment. They subsequently suffer a developmental lag wherein their brain and mind have trouble moving on from the experience, because of the sheer amount of pain associated with it.

A trauma is when the emotional and/or physical pain of an experience is so great that your brain has trouble processing it, and is stuck on the moment, incapable of completely digesting it. Instead of “skipping” over it so to speak, it embeds itself so deeply within you that it becomes a far more significant contributing factor to your instincts and thought processes than any other memory.

One way to look at it is as a sort of permanent activation of the sympathetic nervous system. Trauma victims have a heightened sense of danger and, at times, experience paranoia. Their mind refers back to the pain of that memory, and it causes them to perceive threats where there are none. Sometimes, trauma goes away on its own. Usually, it has to be treated. The treatment isn’t simple, and requires regular counseling. However, things get even more complicated when addiction enters the picture. And sadly, it enters the picture quite often.


The Long-Term Relationship Between Pain, Trauma And Addiction

Pain in general has a long history with addiction. Chronic pain, isolation, anxiety, depression, trauma and addiction are all linked.

It’s a simple relationship – we experience pain, we want the pain to end. Drugs provide short-term relief, and are most dangerous in moments of emotional vulnerability, when we’d like anything that could dull the moment. Opioids are designed analgesics, and easily relieve most forms of pain, both physical and emotional. Alcohol helps drown out the pain, and the emptiness, and the sadness. Amphetamines drive us up the wall, making us feel invulnerable, taking away the fear and inhibition. In one way or another, drugs provide immediate and powerful stress-relief.

But it comes at a high price. And only lasts a short amount of time. Some people learn to manage their dependence – countless people suffer from chronic pain and take only the bare minimum of their medication. Others abuse it. For those struggling with both trauma and addiction, the power of self-medication is all too real.


How PTSD Trauma And Addiction Can Be Treated

PTSD, or post-traumatic stress, develops when a victim of a traumatic incident leads to continuous feelings and symptoms of trauma long after the events of the incident themselves. Victims of child abuse commonly suffer PTSD, and it’s most common in terrible cases of captivity. For victims of sexual violence, for example, the rate of PTSD is between 30 and 50 percent. Among soldiers, the rate is about 11 percent as of Afghanistan, and 20 percent for the Iraqi war.

The difficulty with diagnosing and treating PTSD is that cases differ wildly. Some people experience minor symptoms of trauma, while others suffer from regular full-blown flashbacks.

However, PTSD trauma and addiction can be treated together. In particular by advocating safety. Safety in the form of social boundaries, anger management, exposure therapy, easing into triggers, and having regular one-on-one or group encounters with drug addiction counselors.


Cannot Treat One Without Treating The Other

Drug addiction and mental health issues are commonly correlated because one has an intrinsic relationship with the other. Regardless of how that relationship began or in which direction it goes, treating one requires the other to be treated. It’s not quite as simple as identifying a root cause in medicine and eliminating it to be rid of the symptoms. While addiction can be a symptom, it doesn’t go away quite like a rash does. Instead, you have to seek out a treatment option that aims squarely at every problem you have, rather than addressing them individually.

The goal here is to find treatment that works “together”, beating both trauma and addiction. And this goes for every single other comorbidity. Even an addiction treatment plan related to chronic pain has to consider both conditions – chronic pain fuels addiction, yet if you only work on providing a medication plan to treat the pain, you may fuel a new addiction. It’s important to provide therapy and non-addictive alternatives to help someone cope with their addiction, and learn how to stay away from potential triggers while reducing their overall pain and living with what remains.

One way of looking at it is to stop seeing certain mental issues as entirely separate from one another, and instead looking at each and every single case as an interconnected web of perfectly matching illnesses and problems, woven into each other and feeding off of each other in a twisted symbiosis. Instead of telling patients to tackle each challenge individually, devise a way to deal with all issues.

From the patient’s point of view, this means understanding that every diagnosed issue you have – from your trauma and addiction to your anxiety and depressive thoughts – is part of a system.

A sober living program can help you cope with that system. Aside from providing an environment where countless individuals with wildly different backgrounds can come together to find out how they each struggled with and overcame addiction; sober living homes often also include mandatory counseling and therapy sessions to help each person get the care and evaluation they need to progress in their own recovery journey.

Sober living homes also emphasize a group environment, one where sharing becomes an integral part of the recovery process. In time, vulnerable individuals can open themselves up to others as their confidence increases, and feel empowered by their ability to help and inspire others with the progress they’ve made not only in recovery, but with other issues as well.


3 Types of Depression

3 Types of Depression | Transcend Texas

Depression is not an easy thing to diagnose properly. There are a multitude of websites out there that think they have the right definition. Sites like WebMD says depression is a sadness and that depression is a “treatable medical condition.” This way of defining depression doesn’t even begin to explain what it really is. They also don’t mention that depression can be divided into three different categories. The 3 types of depression are depressive reactions, depressive disorders, and depressive diseases.

Depressive reactions occur when the mental shutdown happens. Closing yourself off and retreating to a sort of isolation is a depressive reaction.

Depressive disorders happen when there are additional circumstances. On top of the “shutdown,” certain other character traits come into the picture. There is an emotional and psychological block, causing dysfunction and other mental issues.

Depressive diseases are the far extremes of depression. This is when the shutdown gets to a level that can’t be explained in the most basic of psychological terms. The symptoms of the state, make you become very resistant to changing. The end result leads to a deep melancholic depression.

For more about the 3 types of depression visit Psychology Today HERE


Using Your Senses To Help Depression

Using your senses to fight depression | Transcend Texas

When you are suffering with depression, the mind is not as able to see things in a positive light. If you are depressed you know things are not alright, and have constant thoughts that things will work out in the end. Depressed minds get stuck in cyclical patterns of hopeless and helpless thinking, which makes it hard to find the way out and figure out what might happen next. The focus is on the dark, dull and negative images of life.

When you are suffering through depression, you know the sense of darkness and dismal outlook that sits with you each and every day. Being depressed also has a feeling of being restricting. It’s as though you just can’t quite get to things that are positive, introspective, bright and new. Here are a few ways that working to enhance your senses while suffering through depression might help you get through it.

Be Active: Being physical can actually help you get out of a funk. Exercise, sports, bike riding, hiking, etc, these sort of things pump endorphin’s into your brain and help energize you.

Taste: Experiment with different foods. Raise your curiosity level of different spices and food. Take a chance on something you’ve been wanting to try for a while. The excitement of this can help to bring you out of your depressed shell.

Listening: Engross yourself in music. Make time to listen to things that make you feel good and think of happier times. Go to a concert and hear it live. The feeling of being around other fans can help you to have a connection to the music and other people struggling with the same problems as you.

Smell: Take time to smell the roses and all that nature has to offer. Open up your sense of smell with aromas that are soothing.

Sight: Take in art, sunsets, films, and other things that can make you think. These sorts of things can help incite some creativity into another form of therapy for your depression.

For more on using your senses to help with depression visit Psychology Today, HERE.

12 Signs Men are Suffering from Depression

Men Suffering Depression | Transcend Texas

In America depression is affecting an estimated 15.7 million people and is one of the most common mental health disorders. And a majority of those that are suffering from depression either aren’t getting the right treatment or any at all. There are certain groups are less likely to receive treatment, especially men suffering depression.

Those of whom are getting treatment often times aren’t being matched up the way they should in regards to diagnosis. People who are diagnosed with a mild form of depression are less likely to take antidepressants than those who are suffering from severe depression. The following 12 signs might provide insight on men that are suffering from depression and what to look for.

  1. Fatigue
  2. Too much/ Too little sleep
  3. Stomach and Back aches
  4. Irritability
  5. Difficulty concentrating
  6. Anger/Hostility
  7. Stress
  8. Anxiety
  9. Substance Abuse
  10. Sexual Dysfunction
  11. Indecision
  12. Suicidal Thoughts


For more on these 12 signs of depression in men visit HERE



Video: Bruce Springsteen’s Battle with Depression


Bruce Springsteen has been very open about his dealing with depression since a 2012 interview in The New Yorker magazine. Now “The Boss” is about to get even more candid about his battle with depression in his upcoming autobiography “Born To Run,” which comes out September 23.

In a recent interview with CBS Sunday Morning, Springsteen further elaborated he’s dealt with it through therapy, antidepressants and the support of his wife, Patti Scialfa. But he added that, as often as it’s struck him, he can never predict when it’s going to occur next.

For more on Bruce Springsteen’s battle see the video above.

and visit CBS Sunday Morning HERE