Caring for Your Intellectual Self

Apr 5, 2022

The human brain is perhaps one of the most complex and vital organs of the human body. It drives decision-making, controls thought and emotion, and even determines when those stomach rumbles begin suggesting it is time for lunch. However, alcohol and drug abuse can have restrictive and even long-term harmful effects on cognitive and intellectual functioning. 

The Human Brain

Composed of more than 100 billion nerves, the human brain communicates messages to the body, allowing us to function. Every minor detail, from remembering to shower in the morning to being able to greet your neighbor or coworker, is possible due to a healthy and well-functioning brain. The brain is full of billions of neurons working together and communicating specifically to send signals throughout the rest of the body. However, alcohol and drug abuse interfere with this system, impairing the ability to think, feel, and function properly. 

Effects of Alcohol and Drug Abuse

Various areas of the brain are impacted by alcohol and drug abuse. As described in depth in “Drugs, Brains, and Behavior,” a few areas affected include the basal ganglia, the extended amygdala, and the prefrontal cortex. With each playing a specific role in intellectual functioning, altering the efficacy of any of the above can be devastating and interfere significantly with everyday life. 

Basal Ganglia

The basal ganglia manage the ability to feel pleasure or gain motivation from healthy habits such as socializing, exercising, sex, and even eating. Substance abuse mimics this by creating an exaggerated feeling of euphoria only achievable by repeated use. This minimizes the impact of healthy habits, lessening their ability to produce as much pleasure or relinquishing their benefit completely. 

Extended Amygdala

Withdrawal, often characterized by feelings of stress and anxiety, can be a significant driving force of repeated alcohol or drug use. The extended amygdala manages these feelings, which are increased significantly by substance abuse. This increase often results in a detrimental cycle that becomes very difficult to interrupt – as stress and negative feelings increase, as does the drive to seek alcohol or other substances to ease these feelings. 

Prefrontal Cortex

The prefrontal cortex manages the ability to think, remember, problem-solve, and exercise impulse control. Decision-making and critical thinking are also made possible by this area of the brain. Substance abuse disrupts these functions, which makes practicing self-control and introspective thinking very difficult, even with the best of intent. Contemplating the outcome of decisions or rationally considering choices can be impossible if this system is impaired. Younger individuals who abuse alcohol or drugs are exceptionally susceptible to the effects on this area of the brain as it is the last to develop. 

Your Best Self

It can be concluded that alcohol and substance abuse has immense negative impacts on various brain functions, but what does this look like externally? A disruption in any of the above-mentioned areas can present as disorganization, impulsivity, lack of empathy or emotion, and loss of overall sense of self. Social struggles, lack or loss of executive functioning skills, and difficulty engaging in health care or benefitting from other services often appear. 

Quality of Life

Having the ability to say you are at your best or presenting your best self is often correlated to the quality of life you have created. Good quality of life is dependent on choices and habits formed as a result of intellectual functioning. The ability to obtain and maintain a job,  for instance, requires motivation and focus, which may not be up to par for those abusing substances. Having the drive or desire to even search for a job can be difficult when achieving this goal is no longer gratifying. 


Self-care is another practice imperative for a good quality of life. Practicing self-care involves setting aside time or planning for activities throughout the week or month that bring happiness, health, or, most importantly, aid in recovery. Self-care can be an afterthought or escape the mind altogether if the ability to plan and initiate is compromised. Seeking and receiving help, in general, may be difficult as a result of the disruption in cognitive functioning substance abuse can have. 

Building and Maintaining Relationships

Building and maintaining relationships is something many crave and need to feel fulfilled. Appearing scattered or distracted can be off-putting to others, even friends and family members. Remembering to show up for appointments or keeping plans with others can be difficult with the impact alcohol and drug abuse can have on executive functioning abilities. Developing new positive relationships can also be tricky as a good first impression is necessary. It is safe to say that with heavy drug or alcohol use, you cannot intellectually “show up” when it may matter most. 

Protecting and caring for your intellectual self is critically important when it comes to functioning successfully and having a good quality of life. Alcohol and drug abuse inhibits intellectual functioning and can have lasting adverse effects. Don’t allow continued alcohol or drug use to prevent you from reaching your potential and being the very best version of yourself. Renaissance Ranch can provide you with the services and treatment you need to recover and care for your intellectual well-being. Here at the ranch, we have a variety of programs suited to address your specific situation, all utilizing evidence-based practices and encouraging family involvement and spiritual and faith-based concepts. Let us serve you by tailoring a plan to meet your individual needs and circumstance. If you or someone you care about is impacted by alcohol or drug abuse and could benefit from the caring culture of our treatment facility, call Renaissance Ranch today at (801) 308-8898.