Neurobiology of withdrawal

WithdrawalThe biggest challenge to all addicts that makes it hard for them to quite using drugs is withdrawal. Most addicts are not using the drugs because the like using the drugs but rather because they are enslaved to the drugs in such a way that whenever they try to boycott the drug the withdrawal symptoms will be too overwhelming to deal with and so they end up succumbing to the intense craving of their drug of abuse, some choose to go back to their old life where drugs matter simply because they want an instant relief from the withdrawal symptoms. The instant relief will be achieved but this will escalate the problem even further as the patient will be following the same tradition.

To walk with everybody, we need to understand this whole topic, the term withdrawal is not new as it has been defined in previous articles. However we need to define neurobiology so that we all are on one ground.

What is Neurobiology?

Neurobiology is the study of cells of the nervous system and how these cells are organized of these cells into functional circuits that process information and influence behavior. Neurobiology is a sub unit of both biology and neuroscience. Neuroscience is much broader as a scientific study of the nervous system than neurobiology.

It is crucial to understand the functions of the neurons. Firstly, the neurons are cells that are specialized to receive, propagate, and transmit electrochemical impulses to initiate certain responses that are critical for proper functioning of the body. The brain of a human being has more than a hundred billion neurons. These neurons however are diverse in morphology and function.

The nervous system is very important owing to its many function, it is therefore good to note that it should be healthy at all times since any slight effect on the neurotransmitters goes a long way in affected not only the health of a person but also his behavior. Illnesses that affect the nervous system are known as neurobiological disorders. These neurobiological disorders are often caused by genetic, metabolic and other biological factors. Most of the illnesses termed as psychiatric disorders are neurobiological. These may include; bipolar disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, autism, Tourette syndrome and even schizophrenia. To avoid most of the neurobiological disorders, it is good to maintain a good nutrition and avoid substances that may deplete the neurons and interfere with the proper functioning of the nervous system. In this article we will explore what happens to the nervous system that causes withdrawal.

What causes withdrawal symptoms?

A person using any type of recreational drug risks suffering from its severe withdrawal symptoms and each drug of abuse has its own unique withdrawal symptoms that those who depend on the drug have to suffer. However it is good to note that you cannot suffer any withdrawal symptom however long you use a drug until you become dependent on the drug. You first have to depend on the drug to suffer its withdrawal symptoms. Without dependence there is no withdrawal.

Neurotransmitters are naturally synthesized in the cell body and migrate down the axon to the presynaptic terminals. Here they are stored in little packets called vesicles which fuse with the synaptic membrane. When a depolarizing current is received, these vesicles release their contents into the synaptic cleft. These happen naturally without dependence on any drug.

The neurotransmitters relay signals between nerve cells, called neurons. The brain uses neurotransmitters to tell your heart to beat, your lungs to breathe, and your stomach to digest. They can also affect mood, sleep, concentration, weight, and can cause adverse symptoms when they are out of balance. However neurotransmitter levels can be depleted many ways. One of the biggest contribution to the depletion of the neurotransmitters is the use of drugs both prescription and recreational.

When you use drugs, especially the recreational drugs for a long time there are neurotransmitters that are affected. The neurotransmitters in the brain have specific purposes that together ensure the right balance in the brain for proper functioning of the neurotransmitters. There are both inhibitory and excitatory neurotransmitters in the brain. There must be balance between these neurotransmitters if the brain is to work normally. However when a person has become dependent on drugs, the balance between these neurotransmitters is interfered with. The inhibitory hormones include:


Serotonin- this neurotransmitter is anti-stimulant. It suppresses all the effects of drugs recreation that works to stimulate the brain. It should be available in good levels to ensure balance in moods too. When you become dependent on recreation drugs serotonin becomes depleted and so the ‘highs’ of the brain will be unregulated making the brain dependent on the drugs. Any attempt to stop using the drug will cause withdrawal. Plus it is serotonin that controls cravings for carbohydrates and even responsible for sleep cycles when it’s depleted the withdrawal symptoms become inevitable.

WithdrawalGABA –this also regulates the excitatory neurotransmitter firing to the brain, however when drugs of recreation are used for a long time this neurotransmitter becomes depleted further creating an imbalance in the brain.

Just like inhibitory neurotransmitter excitatory Neurotransmitters are also very important but are also affected by drugs of abuse. These include;

Norepinephrine- is an excitatory neurotransmitter that is responsible for stimulatory processes in the body. Norepinephrine helps to make epinephrine as well. Drugs suppress your brain’s production of neurotransmitters like noradrenaline. When you stop using drugs or alcohol it’s like taking the weight off the brain, and your brain rebounds by producing a surge of adrenaline that causes withdrawal symptoms. Plus when the levels of inhibitory neurotransmitters are low it means the levels of excitatory neurotransmitters are increased and this causes anxiety and low moods which are common symptoms of withdrawal. Other excitatory hormones that are subject to drug abuse include dopamine and epinephrine. The imbalance between the excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitters is responsible for withdrawal in drug users. We at AWAREmed Health and Wellness Resource Center are committed to availing help to addicts by availing some of the most integrative approaches to healing an addict. We advocate for natural healing to all kinds of addiction. Call on Dr. Dalal Akoury (MD) at Myrtle Beach, South Carolina for help.

Neurobiology of withdrawal