Know Your Brain

Brain - Van Wedeen Massachusetts General Hospital Harvard University Medical SchoolThe brain is the most complex part of the human body. This three-pound organ is the seat of intelligence, interpreter of the senses, initiator of body movement, and controller of behavior. Lying in its bony shell and washed by protective fluid, the brain is the source of all the qualities that define our humanity. The brain is the crown jewel of the human body.

For centuries, scientists and philosophers have been fascinated by the brain, but until recently they viewed the brain as nearly incomprehensible. Now, however, the brain is beginning to relinquish its secrets. Scientists have learned more about the brain in the last 10 years than in all previous centuries because of the accelerating pace of research in neurological and behavioral science and the development of new research techniques.

This fact sheet » from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) is a basic introduction to the human brain. It may help you understand how the healthy brain works, how to keep it healthy, and what happens when the brain is diseased or dysfunctional.

Source:, retrieved November 2, 2015


Your Brain & Mental Health

Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood.

Over the course of your life, if you experience mental health problems, your thinking, mood, and behavior could be affected. Many factors contribute to mental health problems, including:

  • Biological factors, such as genes or brain chemistry
  • Life experiences, such as trauma or abuse
  • Family history of mental health problems

Mental health problems are common but help is available. People with mental health problems can get better and many recover completely.

Source:, retrieved November 2, 2015


Brain images - researcher analyzes FMRI brain images






Researcher analyzes FMRI brain images,


Early Warning Signs of Mental Health Problems

Not sure if you or someone you know is living with mental health problems? Experiencing one or more of the following feelings or behaviors can be an early warning sign of a problem:

  • Eating or sleeping too much or too little
  • Pulling away from people and usual activities
  • Having low or no energy
  • Feeling numb or like nothing matters
  • Having unexplained aches and pains
  • Feeling helpless or hopeless
  • Smoking, drinking, or using drugs more than usual
  • Feeling unusually confused, forgetful, on edge, angry, upset, worried, or scared
  • Yelling or fighting with family and friends
  • Experiencing severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships
  • Having persistent thoughts and memories you can’t get out of your head
  • Hearing voices or believing things that are not true
  • Thinking of harming yourself or others
  • Inability to perform daily tasks like taking care of your kids or getting to work or school
 Source:, retrieved November 3, 2015

Affecting approximately one-quarter of all Americans, mental health problems are treatable. People recover. For Mental Health Help »

Qualified, caring Stark County service providers within the StarkMHAR Care Network address mental health and addiction recovery treatment. For a brief description of each funded provider’s services, programs and contact information access the StarkMHAR Care Network »

How are you feeling today?

Take a short mental health quiz to find out if you, or your loved one, may have mental health disease.


Drugs, Brains & Your Behavior: The Science of Addiction

Brain scans - Drs. Volkow and SchelbertAddiction is defined as a chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences.* It is considered a brain disease because drugs change the brain—they change its structure and how it works. These brain changes can be long-lasting, and can lead to the harmful behaviors seen in people who abuse drugs.

Addiction is a lot like other diseases, such as heart disease. Both disrupt the normal, healthy functioning of the underlying organ, have serious harmful consequences, and are preventable and treatable, but if left untreated, can last a lifetime.

The initial decision to take drugs is typically voluntary. However, with continued use, a person’s ability to exert self-control can become seriously impaired; this impairment in self-control is the hallmark of addiction. Brain imaging studies of people with addiction show physical changes in areas of the brain that are critical to judgment, decision making, learning and memory, and behavior control.** Scientists believe that these changes alter the way the brain works and may help explain the compulsive and destructive behaviors of addiction.

As with any other disease, vulnerability to addiction differs from person to person, and no single factor determines whether a person will become addicted to drugs. In general, the more risk factors a person has, the greater the chance that taking drugs will lead to abuse and addiction. Protective factors, on the other hand, reduce a person’s risk of developing addiction. Risk and protective factors may be either environmental (such as conditions at home, at school, and in the neighborhood) or biological (for instance, a person’s genes, their stage of development, and even their gender or ethnicity).

Scientists estimate that genetic factors account for between 40 and 60 percent of a person’s vulnerability to addiction; this includes the effects of environmental factors on the function and expression of a person’s genes. A person’s stage of development and other medical conditions they may have are also factors. Adolescents and people with mental disorders are at greater risk of drug abuse and addiction than the general population.

The brain continues to develop into adulthood and undergoes dramatic changes during adolescence.

One of the brain areas still maturing during adolescence is the prefrontal cortex—the part of the brain that enables us to assess situations, make sound decisions, and keep our emotions and desires under control.*** The fact that this critical part of an adolescent’s brain is still a work in progress puts them at increased risk for making poor decisions (such as trying drugs or continuing to take them). Also, introducing drugs during this period of development may cause brain changes that have profound and long-lasting consequences.

* The term addiction as used in this text may be regarded as equivalent to a severe substance use disorder as defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5, 2013).
** Fowler JS, Volkow ND, Kassed CA, Chang L. Imaging the addicted human brain. Sci Pract Perspect 3(2):4-16, 2007.
*** Gogtay N, Giedd JN, Lusk L, Hayashi KM, Greenstein D, Vaituzis AC, Nugent TF 3rd, Herman DH, Clasen LS, Toga AW, Rapoport JL, Thompson PM. Dynamic mapping of human cortical development during childhood through early adulthood. Proc Natl Acad Sci 101(21):8174-8179, 2004.
Source:, retrieved November 3, 2015


Alcohol Shrinks and Disturbs Brain Tissue

Heavy alcohol consumption–even on a single occasion–can throw the delicate balance of neurotransmitters off course. Alcohol can cause your neurotransmitters to relay information too slowly, so you feel extremely drowsy. Alcohol-related disruptions to the neurotransmitter balance also can trigger mood and behavioral changes, including depression, agitation, memory loss, and even seizures.

Long-term, heavy drinking causes alterations in the neurons, such as reductions in the size of brain cells. As a result of these and other changes, brain mass shrinks and the brain’s inner cavity grows bigger. These changes may affect a wide range of abilities, including motor coordination, temperature regulation, sleep, mood and various cognitive functions, including learning and memory.

 Source:, retrieved November 3, 2015

Alcohol is the most widely misused substance among America’s youth. Consumption of alcohol by anyone under the age of 21, also known as underage drinking, remains a considerable public health challenge. Adolescent alcohol use is a serious threat to adolescent development and health. Medical research shows that the developing adolescent brain may be particularly susceptible to long-term negative consequences of alcohol use.

Youth who start drinking before the age of 15 are five times more likely to develop alcohol dependence or abuse in their lifetimes than those who begin drinking at age 21 years or later.

Source:, retrieved November 3, 2015


One out of every nine Ohioans, have an addiction disease. Addiction is treatable. People recover. For Addiction Recovery Help »

Qualified, caring Stark County service providers within the StarkMHAR Care Network address mental health and addiction recovery treatment. For a brief description of each funded provider’s services, programs and contact information access the StarkMHAR Care Network »

How are you feeling today?

Take a short quiz to find out if you, or your loved one, may be struggling with alcohol or substance abuse.

Marijuana Use Affects Brain Development

When a person smokes marijuana, THC quickly passes from the lungs into the bloodstream. The blood carries the chemical to the brain and other organs throughout the body. The body absorbs THC more slowly when the person eats or drinks it. In that case, the user generally feels the effects after 30 minutes to 1 hour.

THC acts on specific brain cell receptors that ordinarily react to natural THC-like chemicals in the brain. These natural chemicals play a role in normal brain development and function.

Marijuana overactivates parts of the brain that contain the highest number of these receptors. This causes the “high” that users feel. Other effects include:

  • altered senses (for example, seeing brighter colors)
  • altered sense of time
  • changes in mood
  • impaired body movement
  • difficulty with thinking and problem-solving
  • impaired memory

Marijuana also affects brain development. When marijuana users begin using as teenagers, the drug may reduce thinking, memory, and learning functions and affect how the brain builds connections between the areas necessary for these functions. Marijuana’s effects on these abilities may last a long time or even be permanent.

For example, a study showed that people who started smoking marijuana heavily in their teens and had an ongoing cannabis use disorder lost an average of eight IQ points between ages 13 and 38. The lost mental abilities did not fully return in those who quit marijuana as adults. Those who started smoking marijuana as adults did not show notable IQ declines (Meier, 2012).

Long-term marijuana use has been linked to mental illness in some users, such as:

  • temporary hallucinations—sensations and images that seem real though they are not
  • temporary paranoia—extreme and unreasonable distrust of others
  • worsening symptoms in patients with schizophrenia (a severe mental disorder with symptoms such as hallucinations, paranoia, and disorganized thinking)

Marijuana use has also been linked to other mental health problems, such as:

  • depression
  • anxiety
  • suicidal thoughts among teens

Contrary to common belief, marijuana can be addictive. Research suggests that about 1 in 11 users becomes addicted to marijuana (Anthony, 1994; Lopez-Quintero 2011).This number increases among those who start as teens (to about 17 percent, or 1 in 6) (Anthony, 2006) and among people who use marijuana daily (to 25-50 percent) (Hall & Pacula, 2003).

Source:, retrieved Oct. 28, 2015


Prescriptions, Opioids, Heroin & The BRAIN

Taken as intended, prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs safely treat specific mental or physical symptoms. But when taken in different quantities or when such symptoms aren’t present, they may affect the brain in ways very similar to illicit drugs.

For example, stimulants such as Ritalin® achieve their effects by acting on the same neurotransmitter systems as cocaine. Opioid pain relievers such as OxyContin® attach to the same cell receptors targeted by illegal opioids like heroin. Prescription depressants produce sedating or calming effects in the same manner as the club drugs GHB and rohypnol. And when taken in very high doses, dextromethorphan acts on the same cell receptors as PCP or ketamine, producing similar out-of-body experiences.

When abused, all of these classes of drugs directly or indirectly cause a pleasurable increase in the amount of dopamine in the brain’s reward pathway. Repeatedly seeking to experience that feeling can lead to addiction.

Opioids can produce drowsiness, cause constipation, and—depending upon the amount taken—depress breathing. The latter effect makes opioids particularly dangerous, especially when they are snorted or injected or combined with other drugs or alcohol.

While the relationship between opioid overdose and depressed respiration (slowed breathing) has been confirmed, researchers are also studying the long-term effects on brain function. Depressed respiration can affect the amount of oxygen that reaches the brain, a condition called hypoxia. Hypoxia can have short- and long-term psychological and neurological effects, including coma and permanent brain damage.

Researchers are investigating the long-term effects of opioid addiction on the brain. Studies have shown some deterioration of the brain’s white matter due to heroin use, which may affect decision-making abilities, the ability to regulate behavior, and responses to stressful situations.

More people die from overdoses of prescription opioids than from all other drugs combined, including heroin and cocaine.

Source:, retrieved November 3, 2015

Qualified, caring Stark County service providers within the StarkMHAR Care Network address mental health and addiction recovery treatment. For a brief description of each funded provider’s services, programs and contact information access the StarkMHAR Care Network »

How are you feeling today?

Take a short quiz to find out if you, or your loved one, may be struggling with alcohol or substance abuse.

Understanding Traumatic Brain Injury

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) may happen from a blow or jolt to the head or an object penetrating the brain. When the brain is injured, the person can experience a change in consciousness that can range from becoming disoriented and confused to slipping into a coma. The person might also have a loss of memory for the time immediately before or after the event that caused the injury.  Not all injuries to the head result in a TBI.

TBI can come from:

  • The head being struck by an object, such as a bat or a fist during a fight
  • The head striking an object, such as the dashboard in a car accident or the ground in a fall, or
  • The head being affected by a nearby blast or explosion.

TBI can cause a number of difficulties for the person who is injured. This can include physical changes, changes in the person’s behavior, or problems with their thinking skills. After an injury, a number of symptoms might be noted including headaches, dizziness/problems walking, fatigue, irritability, memory problems and problems paying attention. These changes are often related to how severe the brain injury was at the time of injury.

Source:, retrieved November 3, 2015

Polytrauma occurs when a person experiences injuries to multiple body parts and organ systems often, but not always, as a result of blast-related events. TBI frequently occurs in polytrauma in combination with other disabling conditions, such as amputation, burns, spinal cord injury, auditory and visual damage , spinal cord injury (SCI), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other medical conditions. Due to the severity and complexity of their injuries, Veterans and Service Members with polytrauma require a high level of integration and coordination of clinical care and other support services

Source:, retrieved November 3, 2015

Find help for U.S. Veterans at the Stark County Veterans Center by calling 330-454-3120 or toll-free at 877-927-8387.

Brain Health As You Age

We all want to stay healthy and independent as we get older. Along with keeping our bodies in good shape, we want to keep our minds healthy, too. Developing a brain disease or injury as you age depends on a mix of your family’s genes, your environment, and your health choices. Diseases and conditions that affect brain health include:

  • Genetic makeup
  • Certain medicines, smoking and excessive alcohol
  • Health problems like diabetes and heart disease
  • Diseases like depression and Alzheimer’s
  • Brain injury
  • Poor diet, insufficient sleep, lack of physical and social activity

Some risks to brain health cannot be controlled or prevented, like your genes. Others, like health choices, are under your control. For example, you can:

  • Take care of your health
  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Drink alcohol moderately, if at all
  • Get active and stay active
  • Sleep 7-8 hours each night
  • Learn new things
  • Connect with your family, friends, and communities
Source:, retrieved November 3, 2015

Aging brains are also different than young ones and may be at greater risk for harmful drug effects (on memory or coordination, for example). Having other medical conditions (such as heart disease) and taking medications to treat them while abusing prescription drugs at the same time also present unique risks for older adults.

Older adults may suffer serious consequences from even moderate drug abuse because of several risk factors. As the body ages, it cannot absorb and break down medications and drugs as easily as it used to. As a result, even when an older adult takes a medication properly, it may remain in the body longer than it would in a younger person.

Source:, retrieved November 3, 2015

Qualified, caring Stark County service providers within the StarkMHAR Care Network address mental health and addiction recovery treatment. For a brief description of each funded provider’s services, programs and contact information access the Provider Network Directory »


Brain Health Resources

Brain Basics: Know Your Brain The Brain is the most complex part of the human body.

National Institute of Mental Health: Brain Basics Brain Basics provides information on how the brain works, how mental illnesses are disorders of the brain, and ongoing research that helps us better understand and treat disorders.

The Changing Brain The only constant about your brain is that it’s always changing. Change in brain function is to be expected as you age. Even after your brain reaches maturity, it’s still changing.

Mental Health & Disease Resources

National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) For more information about individual mental health disorders and treatment.

National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) Brochures Short publications with basic information about signs, symptoms, and related treatment of specific mental illnesses.

National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) Booklets Detailed publications about the signs, symptoms, treatment, and current research on specific mental illnesses and related topics.

Mental Health Myths and Facts Can you tell the difference between a mental health myth and fact? Learn the truth about the most common mental health myths.

What To Look For People can experience different types of mental health problems. These problems can affect your thinking, mood, and behavior.

Talk About Mental Health Tips for people with mental health problems, for young people, for parents, friends, family and more. Mental Health  Good mental health helps you enjoy life and cope with problems. It offers a feeling of well-being and inner strength. Just as you take care of your body by eating right and exercising, you can do things to protect your mental health.

Alcohol & Drug Use Resources

Drugs and the Brain Drugs can alter important brain areas that are necessary for life-sustaining functions and can drive the compulsive drug abuse that marks addiction.

DrugFacts: Understanding Drug Abuse and Addiction It is often mistakenly assumed that drug abusers lack moral principles or willpower and that they could stop using drugs simply by choosing to change their behavior. In reality, drug addiction is a complex disease, and quitting takes more than good intentions or a strong will.

Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drugs The misuse and abuse of alcohol, over-the-counter medications, illicit drugs, and tobacco affect the health and well-being of millions of Americans.

Alcohol’s Effects on the Body Drinking too much – on a single occasion or over time – can take a serious toll on your health.

Rethinking Drinking: Alcohol & Your Health For anyone who drinks, this site offers valuable, research-based information. What do you think about taking a look at your drinking habits and how they may affect your health?

Alcohol Use and Older Adults Adults of any age can have problems with alcohol. In general, older adults don’t drink as much as younger people, but they can still have trouble with drinking.

Beyond Hangovers: Understanding Alcohol’s Impact publication Alcohol is part of our culture–it helps us celebrate and socialize, and it enhances our religious ceremonies. But drinking too much can have serious consequences for our health.

Underage Drinking SAMHSA provides information on the dangers of underage drinking and offers tips on how to prevent this threat to adolescent development and health.

Cannibis, or Marijuana The use of marijuana increases the risk of developing cancer of the head, neck, lungs, and respiratory tract due to toxins and carcinogens. Among youth, heavy cannabis use is associated with cognitive problems and increased risk of mental illness.

Marijuana: Facts Parents Need to Know Marijuana remains the most abused illegal substance among youth. By the time they graduate high school, about 46 percent of U.S. teens will have tried marijuana at least once in their lifetime.

Prescription Drug Misuse and Abuse Prescription drugs are misused and abused more often than any other drug, except marijuana and alcohol. This growth is fueled by misperceptions about prescription drug safety, and increasing availability.

Commonly Abused Drugs (Charts) Most drugs of abuse can alter a person’s thinking and judgment, leading to health risks, including addiction, drugged driving and infectious disease.

What are Opioids? Medications that fall within this class include hydrocodone (e.g., Vicodin), oxycodone (e.g., OxyContin, Percocet), morphine (e.g., Kadian, Avinza), codeine, and related drugs.

Opioids A number of opioids are prescribed by doctors to relieve pain. These include hydrocodone, oxycodone, morphine, and codeine. While many people benefit from using these medications to manage pain, prescription drugs are frequently diverted for improper use.

America’s Addiction to Opioids: Heroin and Prescription Drug Abuse The abuse of and addiction to opioids such as heroin, morphine, and prescription pain relievers is a serious global problem that affects the health, social, and economic welfare of all societies.

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) Resources

Basic Information about Traumatic Brain Injury and Concussion Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a serious public health problem in the United States. Each year, traumatic brain injuries contribute to a substantial number of deaths and cases of permanent disability.

Brain Injuries: Prevention, Rehabilitation, and Community Living We all want to stay healthy and independent as we get older. Along with keeping our bodies in good shape, we want to keep our minds healthy, too.

Traumatic Brain Injury Information Page Symptoms of a TBI can be mild, moderate, or severe, depending on the extent of the damage to the brain.   A person with a mild TBI may remain conscious or may experience a loss of consciousness for a few seconds or minutes.

Understanding Traumatic Brain Injury Males outnumber females by at least 2:1 in frequency of TBIs. Individuals between the ages of 0 to 4 and those 15 to 19 are at high risk for TBI, as are the elderly. Individuals who abuse substances are also at increased risk for TBI.

Brain Health as You Age Resources

National Institute on Aging: The Changing Brain in Healthy Aging

Depression is Not a Normal Part of Growing Older Depression is a true and treatable medical condition, not a normal part of aging. However older adults are at an increased risk for experiencing depression.

Participating in Activities You Enjoy – More than Just Fun and Games  From the National Institute on Aging at NIH this resource describes the benefits of being active in a community and staying involved.

Taking Medicines Safely Taking different medicines is not always easy to do properly. It may be hard to remember what each medicine is for, and how and when you should take each one. Here are some helpful hints about taking medicines.

Alcohol Use and Older Adults In general, older adults don’t drink as much as younger people, but they can still have trouble with drinking. As people get older, their bodies change.