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Drugs and the Brain
Introducing the Human Brain
The human brain is the most complex organ in the body. This three-pound mass of gray and
white matter sits at the center of all human activity - you need it to drive a car, to enjoy a meal,
to breathe, to create an artistic masterpiece, and to enjoy everyday activities.
In brief, the brain regulates your basic body functions; enables you to interpret and respond to
everything you experience; and shapes your thoughts, emotions, and behavior.
The brain is made up of many parts that all work together as a team. Different parts of the brain
are responsible for coordinating and performing specific functions, and the brain does multiple
Drugs can alter important brain areas that are necessary for life-sustaining functions and can
drive the compulsive drug abuse that marks addiction.
Brain areas affected by drug abuse -
The brain stem controls basic functions critical to life, such as heart rate, breathing, and sleeping.
The limbic system contains the brain's reward circuit - it links together a number of brain
structures that control and regulate our ability to feel pleasure.
Feeling pleasure motivates us to repeat behaviors such as eating - actions that are critical to our
existence. The limbic system is activated when we perform these activities - and also by drugs of
In addition, the limbic system is responsible for our perception of other emotions, both positive
and negative, which explains the mood-altering properties of many drugs.
The cerebral cortex is divided into areas that control specific functions. Different areas process
information from our senses, enabling us to see, feel, hear, and taste. The front part of the cortex,
the frontal cortex or forebrain, is the thinking center of the brain; it powers our ability to think,
plan, solve problems, and make decisions. This is where we make moral or ethical deci