The word “psychoactive” simply means “affecting the mind or the brain.” All drugs are psychoactive to a greater or lesser degree. Even a cup of coffee – a mild stimulant – is acting upon brain chemistry. Drugs impinge upon our bodies, minds, and brains in profound and even mysterious ways. The allure of drugs is how they make people feel. The drug user wants to get high. People go to happy hour after work to drink and feel more at ease. But what is really happening and why can drugs be so destructive to our bodies?
The brain is a component of the nervous system. A “neurotransmitter” is a chemical that helps transmit messages from cell to cell within the nervous system. Also called “brain chemicals,” neurotransmitters are crucial to muscle control (voluntary and involuntary) and also influence our thought processes, memory, and emotion. They are integral to the relay of sensation and pain signals within the body. The Wikipedia page on neurotransmitters lists 42 “common” neurotransmitters. It is highly likely there are many more – common and uncommon.
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There are many reasons a person drinks alcohol. They may do it because they feel it relaxes them; everyone else is doing it; alcohol makes them open up; it numbs physical or mental pain; or any one of many other reasons. In 2011, 51.5% of Americans said that they drank alcohol on a regular basis. While there is nothing wrong with having a drink now and again, alcohol is not good to use as a crutch. This can lead to dependency.
Alcohol works by increasing the chemical that is responsible for transmitting the pleasure signals from one neuron to the next in your central nervous system. Alcohol encourages your body to relax and actually makes your whole system slow down. This includes your breathing, heart rate and more. This is why some people drink when they are stressed. The drug relaxes them and “loosens them up”.
Ways to Handle Stress
There are limitless ways to handle stress which don’t include drinking alcohol. Some of these are as follows:
Identify the source of the stress
If you are stressed out, it can help to find out where the stress is coming from. For example, if your job is stressing you out, and you feel you must get drunk in order to forget about it, it’s possible there’s something wrong there. Maybe an associate is claiming your work as theirs so they can get a promotion; perhaps an acquaintance is continuously making snide comments; or maybe a competitor is constantly emailing you about how terrible the company you work for is. Little things can eat away at your nerves and you might not even realize how much it actually gets you down. Take a moment when you are relatively calm and look to see if you have any such situations. Then start to smooth them out through good communication and you may experience a reduction in your stress level.
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