Brain Systems

The Limbic System. Another important anatomical brain system through which abused drugs act is the LIMBIC SYSTEM. This system is a collection of structures that lie between the brain stem and the cerebral cortex. It includes the olfactory bulb, frontal and cingulate cortices, NUCLEUS ACCUMBENS, amygdala, hypothalamus, hippocampus and septum, all of which have direct connections with one another. The limbic system is involved in the control of motivated behaviors such as eating, drinking and sexual behaviors and in the expression of emotional behaviors including anxiety and aggression. Tumors or lesions of these structures often lead to abnormal emotional expression. Drugs that directly affect this system can produce changes in goal-directed behaviors, mood (euphoria-dysphoria) and emotions.

The Motor System. Motor function (movement) involves a number of brain structures that include the caudate nucleus-putamen, which sits above and in front of the thalamus, the premotor cortex, and the motor cortex as previously described. Drugs that increase (stimulants) or decrease (depressants such as alcohol) activity levels may do so by affecting the activity of these structures. Although the basic mechanisms may differ for drugs of different classes, the overall effect may be the same.

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