Speaking before about 25 people in the Michigan Union last, Neuroscience Prof. Terry Robinson explained why and how some people are simply basic drug users and others become drug addicts.
With the help of a PowerPoint presentation, Robinson discussed the way the brain changes during and after drug use and how these changes lead to addiction.
“Drugs can do everything from change excitability to change whether a gene is expressed or change how cells work,” said Robinson, who’s taught at the University since 1978.
Drug use leads cells in the brain to receive a greater number of signals, reorganizing the brain’s nervous systems, Robinson said. This causes one’s brain to be hypersensitive to the drug, intensifying its effect on the user.
He said sensitization, which causes increased sensitivity to a drug, can last up to a year after someone stops using drugs and cause addiction.
“Instead of becoming less and less effective, the drugs get more and more effective,” Robinson said. “The consequences can be good or bad . as far as we can tell it simply leads to a pathological motivation for drugs.”
Sensitization, though, is not an inevitable consequence of drug exposure, Robinson said. Susceptibility depends on factors like dosage, genetics, environment and psychological state. Robinson cited cocaine as an example, saying that only about 15 percent of users become sensitized to the drug. He said this process of sensitization also applies to drugs like amphetamines, morphine and nicotine.
“It’s not as simple learning phenomenon; it seems to be an unassociative process,” Robinson said.
The audience seemed attentive and engaged during Robinson’s relaxed speech. Some students took notes during the talk and interacted with the professor by asking questions.
LSA freshman Jeremy Nash, who’s studying neuroscience, said he’d heard good things about Robinson. He said he learned from Robinson’s 50-minute talk.
“I didn’t know the parallels between learning and drug use,” he said.