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Drugs & Health Blog

Say What? “Receptor”

The NIDA Blog Team

"Say What?" is a periodic series in which we define scientific terms and explain their importance.

Your brain is a communications center containing billions of neurons (nerve cells) that connect to each other in circuits—kind of like the circuits in a computer. Brain circuits coordinate everything you feel, think, and do.

Every neuron in your brain has hard-working receptors on its surface that receive signals from nearby neurons. And these receptors can be affected by drug use.

Getting the message

Neurons send and receive messages using molecules called neurotransmitters. When a neurotransmitter molecule is sent from one neuron to another, it attaches to a receptor on the receiving cell, kind of like a key in a lock.

Drugs upset the way neurons normally work. Some drugs (marijuana, heroin) “fool” receptors into thinking they’re another neurotransmitter produced in the body, and this causes abnormal messages to be sent through the brain circuit.

Jamming the circuits

Receptors are involved in tolerance, dependence, and addiction. If a person keeps taking drugs over time, their brain adjusts by producing fewer of its own neurotransmitters, or by reducing the number of receptors that can receive them. This creates an imbalance, and makes parts of the brain less sensitive—including its reward circuits, which are involved in addiction.

With less-sensitive reward circuits, a person who misuses drugs needs to keep taking more and more of them just to feel normal—which only makes the problem worse. It’s a vicious cycle.

Brain receptors help keep your senses, thoughts, and actions on track. But that can change if drugs interfere with the receptors’ job.

Learn why addiction is a disease.

Comments posted to the Drugs & Health Blog are from the general public and may contain inaccurate information. They do not represent the views of NIDA or any other federal government entity.


Nice job explaining!
I'm very interested in this subject. Thanks.
I had a pain for 5 year sometimes it pans an sometimes heavily in another parts an another
It's good for addicted people who having different problem
How can I contact u

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I never knew how many things and parts there were that are in the brain I knew the brain was important but I didn’t know that some parts of the brain are for different types of moods. I didn’t know that neurons were the ones sending the messages to the parts of our bodies.
I think people should stop doing drugs because it messages a lot of things up in your body. Drugs change the way neurons work so that can be bad for you and your brain
This article was very informational and showed how your brain works.
i didn’t know how messed up a brain could get. It is crazy how harmful these drugs are and how they can effect you.
Without receptors, your brain may be oblivious to dangers to your body. This article really opens eyed to how important receptors are to your well being.
People should not use drugs because it messes up how the receptors in your brain work.
I think it's interesting how drugs can really affect parts of your brain and how it mess up how you think and your actions
People should not use drugs because they mess with many things in your brain like receptors
It’s crazy that drugs can make you lose neurotransmitters. It’s pretty sad to see people lose those.
I thought that this blog is very helpful and informative to many people. This is why people cannot stop taking drugs because their brain adjusts to it so it can’t stop taking the drug and the resettles are involved in it. This was very helpful.
I already knew how brain receptors worked. But i did not know how drugs effected the brain receptors. This is was good to learn
It’s interesting how when someone experience a high from drugs, there is nothing “new” happening in their brains, the drugs have just tricked certain receptors into thinking they are neurotransmitters, therefore producing a new feeling in the brain.
I think that it is very interesting that by taking drugs your hody can completely change your body. Even your neurotransmitters can get you confused and completely disrupt even the simplest things. I also learned that if you keep doing drugs your body will create less and less neurotransmitters.
This article was very informative on the neuron circuit system in the brain and how substance abuse can effect the way that circuit perceives certain senses.
This is helpful it teaches me that drugs can mess with your brain and how it functions.
it's good to know how your brain works. it's also good to know the three things- dependence, tolerance, and addiction
I’ve learned that receptors are involved in tolerance dependence and addiction. I’ve also learned that drugs messs everything up, the neurotransmitters think that drugs are neurons and drugs fit into the “key hole”.
These seem like they play a really important roll in the way your brain works. You shouldn’t do something, like drugs, that will mess with the way that your receptors function.
Receptors help send messages o the brain
This article brings to light that humans a extremely sensitive to chemical changes and imbalances but dose not being to tell about the unbelievably complicated organ resposable for all complex life, and only scratched the surface of chemical reactions in the brain
This is how people get addicted to herion
I think it’s crazy how getting addicted to drugs can really effect the receptor and mess them up. Also, people can reduce the number of receptors they have if they continue to take drugs.
Neurons are vital for our bodies to function and drugs upset the ability of the neurons to function. So drugs hurt you negatively even though they may make you feel good.
It's neat that who the brain send messages through your nervous system. I never really overthink how moving your fingers is a neurological message sent to your brain. It amazes me every day how the human body works.
The way drugs affect receptors in the way is bad because it affects the messages that are sent to the brain and makes your brain less sensitive so it can respond to things normally.
It’s very interesting how neurons are disrupted and changed by drugs. I knew drug addicts build a tolerance for the drug, but I did not know it is because parts of the brain become less sensitive to the drugs. Very interesting article.
I think that this was very informative. If you or anyone you know uses these drugs you should read the article. You will learn how your neurons get confused in sending messages because of the drugs affects on the brain. The neurons attach to the drug instead of other neurons sending random signals to the brain.
This article is helpful because it helps learn about the brain and communication and technology.
This helps me understand how the brain and drugs work drugs mess up the neurons in the brain and you became addicted and messed up
This article is very interesting because I learned that there are billions of neurons in your brain. If you do drugs the number will reduce over time.
I found this article very interesting, as I rarely think of the way the brain actually works, and instead just use it. The fact that the brain has billions of neurons that connect to each other in circuits is crazy. To think that these control what you think, do, and feel makes me feel the need to protect my brain. They then presented facts about drugs, addiction, tolerance, and dependence and how these are connected to these nerve endings. The more you use the drugs, the less sensitive the brain becomes and the more of the drug is needed. The facts in here are scary and due to this (and of course many other reasons) I want to protect my brain and avoid drug use.
This article is very interesting because I learned that there are billions of neurons in your brain. If you do drugs the number will reduce over time.

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