Now that we've covered the different
types of drugs people use to get high, let's
talk briefly about how drugs
work in the body and brain, and why.
Because of all
the things we've learned in the past few years about drugs, the
most interesting--and the most useful,
in understanding the attraction of drugs and avoiding the problems they can cause--has come from research
into how drugs work in the body and brain.
For a long time, people assumed
that drugs and alcohol just sort of "did something"
to change the way we think and feel. Today, we know better.
Researchers now know that drugs
and alcohol tilt
the balance of chemicals
that relay impulses from cell to cell in the brain and central nervous system. And changes
here can cause major changes in the way we think
Drugs alter this balance in a
number of different ways. Stimulants, for example, increase levels
of transmitters that regulate arousal, like
dopamine and acetylcholine.
Other drugs, like minor tranquilizers,
act like tiny "keys"
that fit the brain's own system of internal relaxation "locks," which increase the activity of
neurotransmitters that help regulate emotions.
Other drugs plug into receptor
sites elsewhere in the brain and central nervous system.
If that were all that drugs did--just slipping inside little relaxation
"locks" in our heads for a while, then letting things
slide back to normal--they wouldn't be that big
a deal or that bad an idea.
What makes them a big deal and
a bad idea is that once the chemistry of the brain gets out of balance, it can be tough
getting it back into balance. Some long-time users never seem to get it right.
Still, knowing how drugs work in the body doesn't answer a question
that's just as important: Why do
people want them there?
Good question. And when you blow away all the smoke and confusion
about drugs and drinking, what you find is a good (and simple)
answer: because they just don't feel
good about themselves.
Maybe they think they're too something: too fat or
too skinny, too
dumb or too smart, too
ugly or too pretty (yes, there are even some of
those), too short or too
tall, too poor or too
rich (yep, them, too), too young or
Or maybe there's something they
want to change and drugs look like an easy answer or a fast shortcut.
Maybe they're wired emotionally and drink or take tranquilizers
to calm down. Or maybe they don't feel like they're
up to their own (or someone
else's) standards, and take cocaine to get more of an "edge." Or maybe they're just bored
and smoke pot to make their lives seem less dead.
No matter why people begin to drink or take drugs, after a while
another reason kicks in for continuing: They
think they need to.
And the problem with thinking
that is it just isn't true.