How Does Substance Abuse Relate to Serotonin?

Being on drugs feels different than being sober because substance abuse disrupts neurotransmitters in the brain. Drugs that release serotonin make you feel good, and drugs that affect serotonin levels and other neurotransmitters cause a person to feel high. Neurotransmitters affect how people feel, behave, think, and are chemicals in the brain that send signals between brain cells. Serotonin is one of the feel-good neurotransmitters, so serotonin and drug use go hand in hand.

Drug use over time results in a brain disorder wherein the brain relies on the neurotransmitters drugs to function correctly. Some people have a predisposition to drug use because of their genetic physiology. People have conducted several studies to analyze the progression of drugs’ effects on the brain.

If you would like more information about serotonin and drug use or would like resources on finding treatment, please give us a call at 912-214-3867.

Understanding Neurotransmitters

When the brain receives any information, neurotransmitters are the vehicle of processing that information. For example, when you read this sentence on your phone or computer, your eyes process the words you see and convert it into information. The brain then passes the information to the visual processing part through brain cells scientists know as neurons. Once the visual cortex processes this information, your brain finds meaning to what you see via memory.

To pass from one neuron to the next, it must cross the gap between neurons called a synapse. To make this happen, the information becomes a chemical signal. These chemical signals that travel in synapses are what we know as neurotransmitters. The brain consists of 86 billion neurons so that it can process a high level of information.

Furthermore, how neurotransmitters pass between neurons is essential to the functioning of the brain. The chemicals in neurotransmission are what inform how we experience and interpret our environment. Computers make a great analogy for brain function; electrical currents travel between a network of circuits. The direction of the current, the amount of current, and where the current ends up creates the computer’s resulting output.

Information in the brain passes between neurons using its own form of electricity and neurotransmitters. The amount and type of these signals and the different paths they take through the brain create what we think, feel, and react to stimuli.

Drug Use Affects Neurotransmission

Inside normal brain functions of a sober individual, the release, breakup, and re-absorption of the chemicals occur regularly. When introducing a drug, the release, separation, and re-absorption of chemicals vary widely outside of the norm. This is why people feel high and alter their state of consciousness while using. The brain is experiencing something; it usually cannot participate on its own due to the checks and balances on neurotransmitting.

When you first start using drugs, the wacky effects the drugs cause on neurotransmission wear off, and the brain’s signals return to normal. The wearing off causes the process of sobering up. After the brain experiences this enough or works beyond its basic parameters, neurotransmission changes’ structure and function. The parameters for the number of neurotransmitters the brain allows in are affected semi-permanently.

The Path to Addiction

This change in the brain’s default neurotransmitter allowance in synapses is what creates drug tolerance. A user will have to take more of the drug, flooding more chemicals into the mind, to meet the now more significant parameters of good neurotransmitters in the brain. While a hit of drugs equivalent to the first time still creates the same number of chemicals, the brain doesn’t register them as a dramatic increase anymore, so they feel less or no effect.

Withdrawal occurs when the new neurotransmission parameters are not ceasing substance use. The brain has become familiar with the higher levels of chemicals and needs them to feel normal. Quitting substances makes the brain feel like it doesn’t have enough of its everyday chemicals because the amount of chemicals it has become familiar with is now different.

The need for more drugs to feel high and drug cravings are the critical components of addiction. If you, or someone you care for, are suffering from addiction, then please reach out to our experts. We will be able to assist you in getting on the path to sobriety. Do not wait. Call us today.

Drugs Replace Neurotransmitters

When long-term drug abuse continues after the above situations occur, the brain continues to alter itself in the presence of drugs. The actual structure of the cells begins to change in response to the massive levels of neurotransmitters present. The cell shuts itself off from being affected dramatically by fluctuating neurotransmitter levels and reducing the number of receptors present to accept neurotransmission messages.

When you take a drug that causes the brain to flood with serotonin frequently, the mind will respond to these massive surges by reducing serotonin receptors. Therefore, this quantity of serotonin no longer affects the brain in the same way. While this mechanism protects the brain from drugs, it causes drug dependence and addiction.

The brain becomes familiar with higher serotonin levels, and natural occurrences during sobriety that result in serotonin production do not feel acceptable to the user anymore. Each type of drug affects a different cocktail of neurotransmitters, so other drugs have different feelings highs. Drugs that affect serotonin are feel-good drugs that elate your mood or make you feel happy.

Emotions and Serotonin

Serotonin is composed of amino acids and is created in the central nervous system. Serotonin is a product of tryptophan, an amino acid we get through consuming food. Tryptophan is used for a vast variety of physiological processes, like intestinal functioning, sex, and staving off depression.

Serotonin is most famous for its involvement with obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, and anxiety. Studies involving serotonin and mental health have become wildly popular over the last few decades. There is an entire class of drugs related to manipulating serotonin called “SSRIs” or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. These drugs create more receptors on neurons for serotonin, so more of the natural serotonin produced by the body is received and processed by neurons. Famous SSRIs include Zoloft and Prozac.

When someone begins suffering from a clinical disorder, including anxiety or depression, it’s because their body is familiar with the serotonin amount released during drug use during drug and alcohol withdrawal. During withdrawal, users of various serotonin altering substances experience higher levels of irritability, sleep irregularities, severe anxiety, problems with concentrating, and symptoms of mental health conditions like bipolar disorder. Allow us to help you through your withdrawal. Contact our specialists today and start receiving the treatment you need for your situation.

Drugs, Serotonin, and Impulsivity

Impulse control is deeply related to addiction for a variety of reasons. It is well known through research that a relationship between addiction and impulse control exists. Both of the behaviors involve less ability to control impulses and greater susceptibility to addictive behaviors and lifestyles. Someone who is more impulsive while sober is more likely to develop a substance abuse problem.

Serotonin is one of the brain’s tools for directing impulsivity, and thus in the role addiction plays in an addict’s life. While we have yet to understand the exact mechanism, the implications of impulsivity on the recovery process are well observed.

For example, users with cocaine addiction are generally more prone to impulsive decision making than their sober peers. People who act more impulsively than sober individuals are also more likely to drop out of treatment for stimulants like cocaine.

One of the reasons people are drawn to drugs in the first place is that they may have a mental illness that mimics these drugs’ effects, so they seek the drug to try and alleviate symptoms they are already experiencing naturally. This almost always worsens the mental illness in the long run, even if they gain short-term relief.

Mental illnesses alter neurotransmitters’ levels and most notably affect serotonin levels and how much the brain produces. That’s why many withdrawal and intoxicating symptoms mimic different mood states that arise during episodes of mental and mood disorders.

Specific Drugs and Their Effects on Serotonin


Studies show that after you take cocaine, your serotonin levels increase. A large dose of cocaine can look like a manic episode marked by grandiose feelings, self-absorption, lack of desire to sleep, and profound paranoia.

When someone has been using cocaine for a long time, they go through withdrawals. Their withdrawals typically involve dysphoria and anhedonia (being unable to derive pleasure from previously enjoyable activities). Depression and anxiety are also common. These behavioral and mental changes are a direct result of profound fluctuations of serotonin in the brain.


Serotonin increases when a user takes MDMA (ecstasy). Those on ecstasy experience a significantly greater mood, expressing itself through euphoria, happiness, and sometimes mania. Their sense of well-being improves, and most people high on MDMA experience a level of extroversion that is uncommon in their lives.


Meth users experience an unnatural heightening of serotonin levels. When meth users experience withdrawals, they often face dysphoria, fatigue, insomnia, or conversely, hypersomnia.

Their appetites increase, and they experience an agitation of their psycho-motor reflexes, which causes ticks and a need to move (such as pacing around a room). Their thoughts and movements may slow down after the initial hyperactivity, and they often have very vivid nightmares.

Do not go through your addiction alone. We can help you fight and win this battle. Contact our trained professionals today and start getting the treatment you deserve tomorrow.

Getting the Proper Help

Serotonin and substance abuse is vital to understand.  The effects of serotonin over-stimulation and withdrawal are critical in sympathizing with what a drug user is both experiencing and seeking when they get high. Most drugs release serotonin in some form, and almost all prolonged drug use affects the body’s ability to produce serotonin.

The rehabilitative community understands drug use and serotonin, and experts know how to handle the body’s tendency towards unbalanced neurotransmitters. Medically supervised withdrawals sometimes provide medicines that alleviate the pain caused by the lack of balance in neurotransmission by administering medications that work with available synapses. The treatment tricks the receptors on neurons into thinking the person has used when they have not.

If you or a loved one is suffering from an addiction to substances, it’s essential to reach out for help. You can begin your recovery journey today by calling 912-214-3867 right now to speak to licensed and compassionate professionals who understand what you’re going through. Don’t delay; your journey can start today.


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