Health Consequences of Substance Abuse


According to an article from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), more than 23 million adults in the U.S. deal with some sort of substance abuse problem? Addiction is often viewed as a behavioral or mental health disorder, but the reality is that it also has a physical component. The consequences of substance abuse on the body are undeniably evident.

Repeatedly using a substance can literally change the way a person’s body works. Substance abuse will always have a negative effect on a person’s health. However, the exact negative effects of drugs and alcohol can vary quite a bit. The impact of substance abuse depends on what sort of substances a person consumes and how long the individual uses this substance. 

Alcohol

As one of the oldest and most widely available substances, it is no surprise that alcohol is the most frequently abused substance. Despite being legal, alcohol is very dangerous. It tends to cause the following complications:

Heart Problems

Even moderate amounts of alcohol can increase blood pressure drastically. This is very dangerous because it puts more strain on the blood vessels. Chronic drinkers have a much higher chance of heart problems. They are likely to deal with things like heart attacks, stroke, and blood clots.

Increased Risk of Accidents

Alcohol use is associated with a wide variety of motor vehicle crashes, falls, drownings, and burns. When people are under the influence, they have poor judgment and decreased coordination. Alcohol also lowers body temperature, so it tends to cause frostbite and hypothermia in the winter.

Kidney and Liver Damage

The kidneys and liver help to process toxins that the body consumes. However, since the body views alcohol as a toxin, alcohol abuse overworks these organs. Over time, your liver can develop scarring, and your kidneys will lose their ability to filter blood efficiently. Many long-term alcoholics end up with life-threatening kidney or liver failure.

Higher Cancer Rates

When individuals use it excessively, alcohol can be a fairly damaging substance. Every time it comes in contact with cells in the body, it harms them slightly. Most cells can repair themselves, but every instance of damage increases the risk of a cell mutating into a cancer cell. Alcohol is mostly associated with mouth, throat, esophagus, stomach, colon, and rectum cancer. It can also increase breast cancer risks by elevating certain hormone levels, and it can increase cancer risks in the liver and other organs that process toxins.

Dementia

People who consume alcohol regularly actively and excessively may experience brain damage as a result. The brain shrinks in overall volume, and people have fewer connections between the remaining brain cells. This damage to the brain increases the risk of dementia. There is a specific type of dementia, called alcohol-related dementia, that often happens among heavy drinkers. Stopping alcohol use can slow the progress of the disease, but it might not be reversible.

Heroin and Other Opioids

Opioids are a type of drug category that includes naturally occurring heroin and synthetically produced painkillers like Oxycodone. Due to the intense rush of euphoria they produce, these drugs are incredibly addictive. They are also associated with some of the most severe health complications.

Increased Infection Rates

Studies have found that opioid abusers have higher rates of various infections compared to the general population. They are more likely to develop pneumonia, tuberculosis, bacterial infection, skin abscesses, and more. This is partially due to the fact that opioid use often encourages people to neglect basic hygiene, like changing clothes, bathing, or living in a clean home. Individuals who use heroin also have higher rates of hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and HIV due to needle sharing. These illnesses further weaken the immune system and make it easier to get sick.

Health Problems at Administration Site

Opioids are extremely damaging substances. When an opioid drug comes into direct contact with the body, it can cause all sorts of issues. People who snort opioids end up with damage to the tissues inside the nose, so they can end up developing a hole in the tissue between the nostrils. Furthermore, many people who suffer from addiction struggle to administer opioids safely, so they end up causing more issues. It is common for people to have scarred or collapsed veins from repeated heroin injections. Injecting heroin cut with other materials can cause blood clots or infections in the lungs.

Liver and Kidney Damage

People who abuse opioids are at risk for both liver and kidney disease. These organs help to process substances that enter the body, but opioid use can harm them. Chronic use causes people to develop cirrhosis. This damage can be especially bad if a user mixes opioids with alcohol or other drugs. Those who get hepatitis from injections also risk further damage to these organs. If an individual does not receive treatment for these issues, the results can be fatal.

Cocaine

Cocaine is a stimulant drug that goes by many names, including “crack”, “coke”, and “blow”. As a stimulant, cocaine speeds up processes throughout the body. Cocaine users often use it in binges, where they take large amounts, and chronic cocaine consumption causes major health issues.

Cardiovascular Issues

Cocaine use puts an intense amount of pressure on the heart and other parts of the cardiovascular system. Repeated cocaine use inflames the heart muscles, reduces the heart’s ability to contract, and reduces blood flow to the extremities. Furthermore, the consequences of substance abuse also increase the risks of heart attacks, strokes, and aortic ruptures.

Gastrointestinal and Digestive Issues

Since it reduces blood flow, cocaine causes damage to all the organs of the gastrointestinal tract. People are more likely to end up with tears and ulcerations that are very risky. In addition to major health problems, cocaine also makes it harder for people to receive proper nourishment. Users tend to lose their appetite, so they end up losing dangerous amounts of weight and experiencing malnourishment.

Impaired Cognitive Function

In the short term, regular cocaine abuse leads to some basic neurological problems like poor impulse control and reduced memory. Even after a person quits abusing cocaine, they may face neurological issues. First of all, cocaine use can trigger and worsen movement disorders like Parkinson’s disease. Secondly, it can cause strokes and seizures that eventually result in dementia or other cognitive issues.

Methamphetamines

Methamphetamine is a highly addictive stimulant that can be inhaled, ingested, or injected. Typically called meth, this stimulant results in some very unique and dangerous health issues.

Mental Psychosis

One of the most unusual aspects of meth is its effect on the brain. Neuroimaging studies have shown that meth abuse causes severe abnormalities to parts of the brain that regulate emotions and cognition. Meth tends to cause major mood swings, violent behavior, anxiety, and confusion. Additionally, a high number of meth users end up with some form of psychosis. These breaks with reality can include hallucinations, delusions, and intense paranoia.

Malnutrition

As a stimulant, meth is a very strong appetite suppressant. Even if a person starts using meth while overweight, it is very easy for them to become dangerously underweight. The long-term effects of drug use-related weight loss can cause major heart and lung problems. Furthermore, malnutrition can result in a wide range of issues like anemia, diabetes, impaired breathing, and muscle wasting.

Tooth and Skin Problems

Unfortunately, meth is one of the most visibly recognizable forms of addiction because it harms the skin and teeth. People who frequently abuse meth have major tooth decay and tooth loss. This happens because meth dries the mouth, encourages teeth grinding, and often causes people to neglect tooth hygiene. Meth often results in skin sores as well. People are prone to picking at their skin under the influence of meth, and then malnutrition keeps these sores from healing.

Benzodiazepines

Benzodiazepines, such as Ambien and Klonopin, are a class of widely used anxiety and sleep medications. Unfortunately, they also have a lot of potential for misuse. People who frequently abuse benzodiazepines can face many health issues.

Cognitive Decline

When using benzodiazepines, people experience confusion and drowsiness. Constantly placing your brain in this state unnecessarily can have drastic effects. Sadly, people can experience cognitive decline when they abuse benzodiazepines. Some common symptoms include memory loss, slowed thoughts, and difficulty thinking logically. Additionally, some people may face trouble multitasking or problem-solving. One study even found that these results are present months after people quit using benzodiazepines.

Seizures

One of the especially negative effects of drugs that contain benzodiazepines is that they may cause fatal withdrawals. With most drugs, abruptly stopping use just causes unpleasant, flu-like symptoms. However, on benzodiazepines, suddenly quitting them may result in life-threatening seizures. The issue is that your body gets used to functioning with high amounts of benzodiazepines in its system. It produces excessive amounts of certain brain chemicals, and when you quit benzodiazepines, this surge in neurotransmitters can cause seizures.

Overcome Addiction and Prevent Further Health Problems

As you can see, addiction is not a harmless vice. It has a major impact on a person’s health and overall wellbeing. If you or a loved one is dealing with a substance use disorder, it’s important to seek help as soon as possible. The right care can reduce the consequences of drug abuse such as major health complications.

Here at Kingsway Recovery, we focus on providing compassionate, effective care. Our team works hard to give clients the support and skills they need to overcome addiction. To learn more about our services, contact us today.