People who have consumed drugs or alcohol often do things that are outside their comfort zone. You can likely remember instances when you were more social, friendly, or able to relax in an environment where alcohol or drugs were present.
This is because of lowered inhibitions. These are caused by a momentary lapse in control of your actions as a result of alcohol or drug consumption.
Inhibitions allow you to regulate yourself and your behaviors. In some people, this may come across as shyness or refusal to do certain things.
Drugs and alcohol lower inhibitions, causing you to act in ways you wouldn’t normally. This comes with many risks.
Drugs can thwart the ability to make good decisions because they affect a part of the brain called the orbitofrontal cortex. Drugs may cause a person not to fully think about the decision they make, causing a person to seek immediate gratification.
Lowered inhibitions are dangerous for anyone who consumes drugs or alcohol in excess. They are a continual problem for people who have a substance use disorder. Addiction is linked to previous bad decision-making and impaired judgement.
A January 2017 article from Psychology Today reports that the brain needs a balance between inhibitions and excitability. Two neurotransmitters are responsible for this balance:
Brain scans in people who misuse cocaine on a regular basis show that they can eventually damage their ability to make good decisions and their memory. Alcohol can also affect the brain of people who deal with alcohol use disorder, are binge drinkers, or occasional heavy drinkers.
Anyone can experience diminished inhibitions at any age, but teens who experiment with or misuse drugs or alcohol are at increased risk of substantial damage to the frontal cortex because their brains are still developing.
A 2009 case study from Clinical EEG and Neuroscience found that teens who use marijuana tend to have more gray matter and a larger prefrontal or posterior cortex. This disrupts the brain’s development and means marijuana’s harmful effects can be felt for years after use.
A 2018 study published by Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research confirms that adolescents who use marijuana from a young age may not perform as well on verbal tasks or have as good a memory as peers who do not use marijuana as teenagers.
Lowered inhibitions are also associated with certain social problems, such as:
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(April 2012) Commonly Abused Drugs. National Institute on Drug Abuse. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/sites/default/files/cadchart.pdf
(August 2018) How Drugs Hijack Decision-Making in the Brain. Psych Central. from https://psychcentral.com/news/2012/11/27/how-drugs-hijack-decision-making-in-the-brain/48162.html
(July 2019) Cocaine Abuse Affects Decision-Making and Memory. Verywell Health. from https://www.verywellmind.com/cocaine-abuse-affects-decision-making-66702
(March 2013) Non-injection and Injection Drug Use and STI/HIV Risk in the United States: The Degree to which Sexual Risk Behaviors versus Sex with an STI-Infected Partner Account for Infection Transmission among Drug Users. AIDS and Behavior. from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3923515/
(July 2014) Association between alcohol use and sexually transmitted infection incidence among Kenyan women engaged in transactional sex. AIDS and Behavior. from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4007393/
(June 2016) Alcohol and Violence. Verywell Mind. from https://www.verywellmind.com/alcohol-and-violence-research-62654
(January 2017) Excitation and Inhibition: The Yin and Yang of the Brain. Psychology Today. from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/consciousness-self-organization-and-neuroscience/201701/excitation-and-inhibition-the-yin-and
(March 2019) Impaired Driving: Get the Facts. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. from https://www.cdc.gov/motorvehiclesafety/impaired_driving/impaired-drv_factsheet.html
(March 2018) Verbal Memory Performance and Reduced Cortical Thickness of Brain Regions Along the Uncinate Fasciculus in Young Adult Cannabis Users. Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research. from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5870060/