Effects of Drugs on the Brain

how drugs affect the brain

When someone becomes addicted to drugs, they and those around them often notice how it affects their behavior. What many do not know is the effects of drugs on the brain. What might just seem like getting high and then recuperating fully afterward can actually be something much more serious. Drug addiction often has cumulative effects, including how a person’s brain operates. Realizing this can help inspire a person to get the professional addiction treatment they need before it’s too late.

Are There Effects of Drugs on the Brain?

The negative impact drugs can have on a person’s life can come in a variety of forms. Many people associate this type of damage only with physical health problems. The reality is that there are several types of effects of drugs on the brain, including some that may not be reversible. For this reason, the sooner a person gets help, the better their chances are of addressing these results. 

The Effects of Drugs on the Brain

Which effects of drugs on the brain can happen depends on a few factors. One is how long the person has been addicted and how much of a dosage they typically ingested. As well, their physical and mental health can influence their situation. Additionally, which substance the person is addicted to matters when it comes to what the effects may be.


Alcohol abuse can cause a multitude of effects on the brain. Short-term effects can include blurred vision, difficulty speaking clearly, slowed reaction times, and impaired memory. While these symptoms often clear up once the person is sober, they can build up over time and become difficult to overcome. Drinking to excess can also cause a person to blackout.  

Other effects on the brain from alcohol abuse include paralysis of the nerves in the eyes and the development of Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome. Additionally, women who drink alcohol while pregnant put their fetuses at risk of developing fetal alcohol syndrome, which can cause irreversible brain damage. 


Opioid abuse can cause damage to the brain in several areas. These include a person’s memory, attention span, and ability to process new information and adjust to new situations. All of these abilities prove crucial not just in life, but particularly in terms of a person’s ability to recover from addiction. Brain damage can also cause a person to have difficulty with cognitive abilities, including problem-solving and controlling their impulses. This can cause them to be more likely to relapse. 


Damage done to the brain from abuse of benzodiazepines can be similar to that which comes from alcohol abuse. It can cause damage to the structure of the brain which can bring on impaired cognitive abilities. Additionally, it can cause difficulties with memory and decision-making. While many recover from this once they enter recovery, some are unable to return to pre-abuse cognitive functioning. Benzo abuse is also associated with causing an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. 


Abuse of hallucinogens can cause a person to experience cognitive difficulties, visual disturbances, and even psychosis. These effects can be temporary or long-term. Some people develop mental health disorder symptoms, such as paranoia, hallucinations, and panic attacks. Even when a person is not under the influence of hallucinogens, they may experience these symptoms in the form of flashbacks. 


Stimulant addiction can negatively impact a person’s cognitive abilities, including using poor judgment and decision-making. They can also have difficulty adapting to new situations and be more likely to engage in impulsive behavior without thinking it through first. Long-term abuse of drugs like methamphetamine can cause mental health disorder symptoms such as paranoia and psychosis that can last even after a person stops using the drug. 


Marijuana abuse can cause structural changes to the brain that affect cognitive abilities. Many people develop memory problems and difficulty learning new skills. Marijuana can also affect a person’s impulse control and make it difficult for them to adapt to new situations. Some studies point to a potential decline in a person’s I.Q. when they abuse marijuana. 

Can Drug Abuse Impact a Person’s Mental Health?

While drug abuse can cause physical damage to a person’s brain, it doesn’t stop there. Substance use disorders can also impact a person’s mental health. In fact, this phenomenon is quite common. Approximately half of the people who have an addiction to drugs or alcohol also experience at least one mental health disorder. These include conditions such as:

  • Depression
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Panic disorder
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Eating disorders

What Is Drug Abuse Treatment Like?

Drug addiction treatment happens in stages, beginning with going to a detox program. From there, many people attend a residential program and live in a treatment facility for several weeks or months. Alternatively, or as a step-down from a completed residential program, many people benefit from outpatient programs. These include partial hospitalization programs (PHP), intensive outpatient programs (PHP), and regular outpatient programs (OP).

At each level of treatment for substance use disorders, multiple types of therapy should be available to the individual. These can include individual therapy, group therapy, and family therapy. As well, many programs offer therapy modalities proven to assist in recovering from addiction. These include holistic therapy, brainspotting therapy, red light therapy, medication-assisted treatment, and more. 

Many types of therapy used during treatment can help minimize and even reverse some of the effects of drugs on the brain. The sooner a person begins treatment for addiction, the better their chances are of accomplishing this.

Begin Treatment for Drug Addiction Today

Drug addiction makes its mark on a person’s life, disrupting their personal lives and more. Sadly, the effects of drugs on the brain can accumulate quickly, making it important to get help for addiction as quickly as possible. Tampa Bay Recovery provides effective, evidence-based treatment that helps a person leave their substance use disorder behind them. This can help them heal the physical and mental effects that occur due to drug abuse. 

If you would like to find out more information about the effects of drugs on the brain, we can answer any questions you have. Visit our admissions page now and let our friendly staff give you the help you need.