Psychoactive substances are chemical elements that affect mainly the CNS (central nervous system) and changes brain operation, leading to alteration in character, mood, insight, and consciousness. These substances might be utilized traditionally, to intentionally change someone’s consciousness, as a substance for spiritual or custom practices, as equipment for learning someone’s mind or as a medication (Kalat 2001, p. 213). Since psychoactive drugs lead to arbitrary alteration in feeling and consciousness which the user might perceive pleasant or beneficial, most of the psychoactive drugs or elements are used excessively despite their associated effects or risks. Therefore, when psychoactive substances are abused they are mostly linked with addiction.
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Addiction is categorized into two; physical reliance and psychological addiction. Psychological addiction is a state where an individual feels forced to utilize a certain type of a drug although the substance has some destructive effects associated with it. On the other hand, physical dependence is a form of addiction where an individual must utilize a substance in order for him or her to work effectively or avoid being physically unfit. All substances are not physically addictive, though any task which encourages the dopaminergic reward setting of the brain could result in psychological addiction. Substances that could easily lead to addiction are the elements that directly motivate the dopaminergic system such as marijuana, cocaine, nicotine, and heroin (Carlson 2007, p. 122).
Psychoactive substances affect an individual’s neurochemistry within the CNS and as a result lead to alteration in character, cognitive, individual’s mood and insight. These substances affect the chemical synapses and neurotransmitters and alter their functions. Synapses are operational linkages between neurons and cells. The main purpose of synapses is to transmit information from one end to the other of areas referred to as presynaptic and postsynaptic cells respectively.
Similarly, neurotransmitters are chemical elements that are generated from a neuron within the body. After these chemicals have been made, they are stored in vesicles at the neuron’s end. Additionally, electrical reaction discharges these chemicals through the synapses so that information can be transmitted from one neuron to another. Therefore, the purpose or function of neurotransmitters is to carry information within the synapse, after which they are damaged or recycled.
Therefore, psychoactive substances affect the neurotransmitter by either heightening the neurotransmitter’s synthesis or lowering its reuptake from the chemical synapses. Thus, contact with psychoactive substances could lead to alteration of the structure and operation of neurons especially when the CNS attempts to re-develop the homeostasis that has been interfered with by the availability of the drug (Kandel, Schwartz & Jessell 2000, pp 35-42).
Some of the drugs which are abused and affect the neurotransmitter include nicotine and cocaine. Nicotine raises the degrees of many neurotransmitters when it comes into contact with nicotinic acetylcholine receptors by controlling its volume. Heightened degrees of dopamine within the reward circuits are associated with relaxation and exhilaration, and ultimate addiction resulting from nicotine consumption.
In addition, nicotine has a greater attraction for acetylcholine receptors within the CNS when compared to those within the skeletal muscle, although at poisonous levels it could cause respiratory paralysis. Secondly, cocaine has great effects within the CNS since it obstructs the synaptic re-incorporation or re-absorption of particular neurotransmitters. As a result, there is an increase of neurotransmitters which leads to pleasurable sensations that are transmitted across the neural path resulting in one feeling of attentiveness, lack of hunger, self-assurance and healthy.
Carlson, R. 2007. Physiology of Behavior (9th edition Ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Education.
Kalat, J. 2001. Biological Psychology. (7th Ed). Boston, MA: Pearson Education.
Kandel, R., Schwartz, H., & Jessell, M. 2000. Principles of Neural Science (4th edition Ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.