Title: Drugwise: Growing Up Straight in a Chemical Culture
Author: Jim Parker
Publisher: Do It Now Foundation
Publication Date: September 2003
Catalog Number: 212

Locks & Keys

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

Because of all
the things we’ve learned in the past few years about drugs, the
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.

Brain Basics

For a long time, people assumed
that drugs and alcohol just sort of “did
to change the way we think and feel. Today, we know

Researchers now know that drugs
and alcohol
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 “
that fit the brain’s own system of internal relaxation “
locks,” which increase the activity of
neurotransmitters that help regulate

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
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)
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
too short or too
too poor or too
rich (yep, them,
too), too young or
too old.

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
calm down. Or maybe they don’t feel like they’re
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

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.

Continue with Chapter 5: Magic Act
Go to Table of Contents


This is one in a series
of publications on drugs, behavior, and health published by Do
It Now Foundation. Check us out online at www.doitnow.org


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