It is often said (and reiterated below by Fergie) that drugs work until they stop working. For an addict, they really stop working and trigger various adverse effects. The well-known negative effects from drug abuse include losing one’s job, spouse, apartment and social life. These are the most evident, known and visible effects – as everyone has at least one family member or has seen a film where the addict shares about their job loss, evictions or increasing social isolation.
What is rarely shared are the other effects of drugs that contribute to such disfunction and isolation – namely the mental toll that drugs like cocaine, adderall and crystal meth can have on the brain. Stimulating drugs like amphetamines increase dopamine levels. For addicts, dopamine feels good at first until feel good chemicals soon turn into feelings of paranoia.
Dopamine is released when the nerves in the brain that are the pleasure pathways are stimulated by drugs. To keep these pleasure pathways flowing, addicts increase their intake of substances like crystal meth. But too much dopamine makes people overly alert and increasingly suspicious. At first, this may take the form of being extra sensitive to what someone says or does and being defensive when there is nothing to defend. This can then turn into more serious paranoia, where the addict fears that everyone – family, friends and authorities are out to get them or that strangers are in conspiracy to harm them. As addicts continue to use drugs that increase these dopamine levels, far beyond the levels that promote feeling good, they can begin to hallucinate. They may hear conversations that aren’t occurring and see “shadow people,” or in Fergie’s case, a dancing ninja, in their apartments.
Because addicts continue to get high despite social and mental consequences, their thoughts and delusions continue to speed up and the paranoia impedes upon their ability to function in society or even at home. The isolation at home that addicts experience is often because of these fearful thoughts that prevent them from going outside. They seldom realize that the drugs are causing the paranoia because they are too embedded within their own thoughts and the addiction to understand this.
Fortunately, once the dopamine circulating in the brain is leveled, the paranoid thoughts begin to subside. This is possible through admission into addiction treatment and by abstaining from all addictive substances.
If you or a loved one is struggling with an addictive substance, the best drug treatment programs can help stabilize your life – socially, professionally and mentally.