How Drugs Affect Men’s Brains

Drugs impact men and women’s brains in different ways

While the fact that men and women’s brains are significantly different is well established, the implications of those differences remain somewhat mysterious to researchers. The language area of the brain develops more quickly in girls’ brains, for instance, and boys are more likely to develop technical or mathematical skills before girls. On average the adult male brain is 5% – 10% larger than the adult female brain, though that certainly does not mean than men are any more intelligent than women. The fact that these differences begin to show up in the fetal stage and continue to differentiate throughout life may also impact things like substance abuse and addiction. Understanding those differences may help treatment professionals develop more effective detox and rehab programs specialized for the treatment of addicted men.

Physical Addiction and the Male Brain

The human brain is essentially a massive network of neurochemical pathways and storage mechanisms that are used to control automatic things like breathing and heart rate, and more conscious or voluntary things like learning, language, and habit formation. Various functions happen in different areas of the brain. The following are all critical functions of the prefrontal cortex area of the brain:

  • Forming and recalling memories
  • Self control
  • Patiently working now for a future reward
  • Anxiety management
  • Self-esteem
  • Relational connectivity
  • Panic or flight
  • Aggressive behavior

Many of the brain’s most important functions are controlled by a highly sensitive and intricate series of chemical signals and responses that trigger feelings of euphoria or wellness (pleasure) or relieve negative emotional symptoms such as depression or anxiety. The brain is highly efficient at moving repeated behaviors from the frontal (conscious) area to the automatic (subconscious) area. As repeated behavioral patterns are moved from the conscious to unconscious regions of the brain, critical cerebral resources are freed up for new uses. The following are just a few examples of things the brain can automate in this way:

  • The pattern in which a person brushes his teeth
  • Pain tolerance
  • Conversational clichés
  • The use of tools
  • Athletic skills
  • A desire to get exercise
  • Sexual attraction and response
  • Compulsive lying, shopping, hoarding, gambling, stealing, etc.

This process of automation or habituation can help men get in shape, save money, treat people respectfully, work hard, or learn new skills, but it can also be hijacked by mind-altering substances. Alcohol, opiates, marijuana, or psychotropic drugs such as Ambien will give users a general feeling of wellness and contentment for a short time. While these substances are in the brain the production and use of naturally occurring “feel good” substances will be suspended. Thus when a man stops using these substances he will be unable to feel normal until and unless his natural chemical balance is restored. Until then he will feel physical and mental discomfort that can be miserable, and even dangerous.

Drugs and the Pleasure Center of the Brain

While the physical dependence described above is a significant issue to overcome, the way these substances impact the psychological functioning of the brain is even more difficult to beat. When the pleasure center of the brain is awash in “feel good” substances negative emotions and symptoms of emotional distress are blocked for a short time. The brain recognizes this relief and then uses every psychological function it must in order to keep it coming.

While the physiological symptoms of addiction tend to pass in a matter of days, the following psychological symptoms will last much longer:

  • Panic attacks
  • Anxiousness
  • Blaming others for your drug problem
  • Sleep disorders (sleeping too much or too little)
  • Changes in appetite or eating
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Depression
  • Suicidal thoughts or actions
  • Obsessive cravings for relief
  • Shame
  • Hopelessness

Self-esteem and respect are also critical for male mental health and both are hampered by drug use. Men are less likely to ask for help and are less likely to admit to having a problem for fear of appearing weak.

Male Oriented Drug Treatment

Due to the differences in how men and women experience addiction, gender-specific rehab is often a very effective option for men. By removing women from the social mix men are able to let their guard down more easily and are less likely to posture for others in the group. Male oriented drug treatment may also provide alternative rehabilitative therapies including outdoor experiences and other adventures. Men benefit greatly from action, thrills, and accomplishing physical feats. Whether it’s a game of basketball, a mountain climb, or a simple walk in a park, many men experience significant breakthroughs when they are in single sex environments.

24 Hour Men’s Addiction Helpline

If you would like more information about how drugs like Ambien impact the male brain, or if you or a loved one need help and are looking to confront the life-controlling disease of addiction, please call our toll-free helpline today. Our staff members are standing by any time of day or night with free, no-strings-attached help. The call is free and completely confidential. You have nothing to lose by picking up the phone. Call now.