Drugs affect human behaviour

With reference to recent research, discuss the ways in which drugs affect human behaviour. Behaviour is psychologically defined as “the aggregate of the responses or reactions or movements made by an organism in any situation.” According to behavioural psychologists, our behaviour solely consists of stimulus – response (S-R) mechanisms which basically means that when presented with a stimulus, it is human nature to respond to it. For example, if we touch a hot plate accidentally (the stimulus) we quickly move our hand away (the response). Another stimulus that affects our behaviour is drugs. When a chemical stimulus acts at a specific area of the Central Nervous System (CNS), it produces a specific response. The responses produced vary between individuals and manage to affect behaviour.

All human behaviour and emotions are controlled by neurotransmitters that act as keys between neurons. The amount of each neurotransmitter in the brain is precisely controlled by numerous feedback mechanisms, in a similar way to how a thermostat maintains a certain temperature in a room. Drugs are substances that disturb this delicate balance, because they have “passkeys” that let them open certain “locks” located between the neurons. The brain automatically adjusts to these substances from outside the body by producing fewer of its own natural “keys”. It thereby achieves a new state of equilibrium that is maintained until the body starts to miss the external substance. At that point, the person experiences a craving that will persist until the neurons get back to work.

The main neurotransmitters in our bodies are serotonin and dopamine, Serotonin regulates body temperature, sleep, mood, appetite, and pain. An imbalance of serotonin can lead to depression, suicide, impulsive behaviour, and aggressiveness. Anti-depressants are used to help people who suffer from depression. Depression is defined as a “mood disorder characterised by sadness and dejection, decreased motivation and interest in life, negative thoughts (for example, feelings of helplessness, inadequacy, and low self-esteem) and physical symptoms as sleep disturbances, loss of appetite, and fatigue”

Antidepressants are antagonistic drugs that work by blocking the re-uptake of serotonin; depression usually occurs when people have low levels of this particular neurotransmitter. Patient’s behaviour is modified by taking anti-depressants as the increased serotonin will lift the mood of depressives and reduce obsessions and compulsions of OCD sufferers. A general feeling of well-being will be restored, confidence improved and energy levels increased.

According to Susan Ice, medical director of the Eating Disorders Unit at Belmont Center for Comprehensive Treatment (USA), anti-depressants can also be used for treating eating disorders. Recent research has shown Prozac to be highly effective in treating bulimia and according to Ice, the Food & Drug Association (FDA) is about to sanction the use of Prozac this problem. Like many people with clinical depression, bulimics also tend to have low serotonin levels and so it is unsurprising to hear that many bulimics also suffer from some form of clinical depression.

With the help of medication, most people can achieve significant recovery from depression and other similar disorders. However, despite helping many people, anti-depressants do have their problems. In 2003, the FDA found that eight different anti-depressant drugs had been found, in clinical trials, to increase the occurrence of suicidality (either attempted suicide or successful suicide.) While suicide is not unexpected with patients of major depression, those treated with the drugs, as opposed to with the placebo pill, were more likely to either attempt or commit suicide. The FDA also pointed out that out of the drugs they tested only Prozac was found to actually be effective in treating those with major depression.

Although, a research team led by Victor Reus and Owen Wolkowitz, both professors of psychiatry at University of California – San Francisco, recently found that anti-depressants can change personality traits in healthy people. Twenty-three mentally-healthy participants took the antidepressant paroxetine for four weeks and subsequently scored lower on survey questionnaires used to measure hostility and exhibited more engaging and co-operative behaviour in puzzle-solving tasks with a partner than they did at the beginning of the study.

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