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Drugs Drugs are chemical substances that alter mood behavior perception or mental functioning Throughout history many cultures have found ways to alter consciousness through the ingestion of substances In current professional practice psychoactive substances known as psychotropic drugs have been developed to treat patients with severe mental illness Psychoactive substances exert their effects by modifying biochemical or physiological processes in the brain The message system of nerve cells or neurons relies on both electrical and chemical transmission Neurons rarely touch each other the microscopic gap between one neuron and the next called the synapse is bridged by chemicals called neuroregulators or neurotransmitters Psychoactive drugs act by altering neurotransmitter function The drugs can be divided into six major pharmacological classes based on their desired behavioral or psychological effect alcohol sedative-hypnotics narcotic analgesics stimulant-euphoriants hallucinogens and psychotropic agents Alcohol has always been the most widely used psychoactive substance In most countries it is the only psychoactive drug legally available without prescription Pleasant relaxation is commonly the desired effect but intoxication impairs judgment and motor performance When used chronically alcohol can be toxic to liver and brain cells and can be physiologically addicting producing dangerous withdrawal syndromes Sedative-hypnotics such as the barbiturates and diazepam widely known under the brand name Valium include brain depressants which are used medically to help people sleep sleeping pills and antianxiety agents which are used to calm people without inducing sleep Sedative-hypnotics are used illegally to produce relaxation tranquillity and euphoria Overdoses of sedative-hypnotics can be fatal all can be physiologically addicting and some can cause a life-threatening withdrawal syndrome Narcotic analgesicsopiates such as morphine and heroinare prescribed to produce analgesia Because the relief of pain is one of the primary tasks of medical treatment opiates have been among the most
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