Even though we can legally drink at age 21, our brains continue to grow well into our mid-twenties. For weeks to months after ceasing heavy drinking of alcohol, a teenager’s brain will still have difficulty working properly. Any use of illicit substances or alcohol before this three-pound organ is fully formed can interfere with its development. Drugs and alcohol affect how neurons direct, collect, and understand information.

Among other drugs, heroin and cannabis can stimulate neurons in our brain. Since these substances have similar chemical structures to the natural ones our body makes, drug use can lead to abnormal messages being transmitted within our brains. The activation of these neurons is not the same when stimulated by an organically produced chemical versus a synthetic one.

Other substances, such as stimulants, can increase the number of natural neurotransmitters that are released. They can also disrupt transporters by getting in the way of the typical recycling of these neurotransmitters in the brain.

Parts of the Brain Effected by Substance Use

Drinking alcohol and using cannabis, opiates, and other illicit substances have a major impact on our minds. These changes to important areas of our brain can set us up for an active addiction, as the alterations lead to compulsive behaviors. The longer we keep using or drinking during active addiction, the quicker the drugs and alcohol become the main priority in our brains. Some areas of our minds impacted when we drink or use drugs include:

  • The basal ganglia: This part of our brain affects our motivation to do things that are pleasurable in our lives: eating, sex, and being around friends and family. It helps us to develop habits and practices. Since this part of our brain houses our “reward circuit,” and drugs over stimulate the basal ganglia, our brain begins to lose please in anything other than the drug. Thus, a desire for more and more of the identified substance begins to be needed in to achieve a sense of reward.
  • The extended amygdala: Stressful emotions (nervousness, grouchiness, unease, fear, etc.) are formed in this area of the mind. These same emotions surround withdrawal from alcohol and drugs. The desire for more and more increases each time we seek to find our choice substance, and our sensitivity to the substance decreases with every use. We begin to engage in use to decrease the discomfort we are feeling rather than to get the sensation of being high or drunk.
  • The prefrontal cortex: The prefrontal cortex is the last area of our brain to develop. Rationalizing, planning, and problem-solving occur in this space of our mind. The prefrontal cortex aids in impulse control.
  • The brain stem: Opioids and other substances have effects on our brain’s core functions, such as sleeping, heart rate, and breathing. This partially explains why death occurs from drug and alcohol overdoses.

Help to Start Healing Your Brain Today

At Discovery Place of Burns, Tennessee, we have trained professionals that can aid in your recovery process. We have been rated as 4.9 out of 5 stars from friends of alumni, graduates, and family members of past clients of our various alternative treatment programs. Help your brain start to heal today! Don’t just take our word for it. Call us at 1-800-725-0922.


  • Discovery Place was the answer for my son. He did the 90 day and then the step down program and sober living. We give this organization 10 stars. They met my son where he was …emotionally, mentally, physically. They helped him put his life back on track. Discovery Place employees care about their guests. If your son, brother, nephew, grandson or husband needs excellent supportive care THIS is indeed the facility.

    Kim Morton
    Alumni Parent
  • I have remained sober and it is because of DP. DP is the best place there is, hands down. I keep everyone there in my prayers, and I encourage everyone there to take what they are practicing and do it in their lives, after.

    Roy Mantelli
  • Over the past year, I’ve been putting into actin what Discovery Place taught me, and I have experienced a complete perspective change of the world, and the people in it. I get to be a man of service and love today, and for that I am grateful to Discovery Place.

    Matt Kassay
  • Discovery Place means the world to me. They showed me the tools that I’ve tried to use everyday in my life to think less often of myself, and more frequently of others. I am learning to lend a hand when I am able and to have a honest and humble relationship with God and the people around me. Not only am I clean and sober, but also I am happy and fulfilled.

    Tommy Parker
  • Discovery Place and the men who work there made recovery attractive, and more importantly, fun. There is strength in the struggle. I am forever grateful for my time at Discovery Place.

    Creed McClellan
  • When I got to Discovery Place my whole life was in shambles, but I didn’t know it. I spent 6 months in their programs, participating in all three phases, and was met with kindness and love all along the way. It is unbelievable to me, where I am now relative to where I was when I arrived at DP.

    Lance Duke
  • I can never say enough good things about Discovery Place and the people who work there. Before checking in to DP, I was out of options and out of answers. Fortunately, Discovery Place has a solution. Taking suggestions from the staff at DP saved my life, and as a result, I’m now more content and hopeful about life. I’m grateful for Discovery Place showing me how to live a healthy life so that I can become a better man and help the next guy.”

    Tyler Buckingham

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