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How Substance Abuse Affects the Body

When does Substance Use become Abuse?

While there are an estimated 35 million men and women who struggle with substance abuse globally every day, there are those who use substances recreationally without developing an addiction or abusing. Though it is important to remember that we do not condone the use of drugs or alcohol, even in small amounts, we do recognize that there is a difference between use and abuse. Using any substance can or will have a negative impact on the body in some small way, but regular and ongoing use or abuse will have more long lasting effects. 

By definition, substance use disorders occur when ongoing consumption of drugs or alcohol causes significant functional impairment, such as a decline in health, and an inability to meet major responsibilities such as work, school or home life. Everyone’s body is different. Your body, your genetics and even your mood can all determine your ability to consume drugs and alcohol, how much and how often. Your body’s makeup also determines how you respond to addictive substances. Drinking a beer every now and then does not mean you will immediately become a dependent alcoholic, but any time you use a highly addictive drug, the possibility of dependence grows.

Substance abuse occurs when a person over uses drugs or alcohol to excess – seeking highs or the flood of dopamine that comes with use. Abuse can be most easily recognized by behavior. If drug or alcohol consumption is taking control or changing your life, then abuse has likely occurred. If you or someone you love has changed, is missing work, no longer participates in the hobbies they once loved in favor of drug use, there may be a substance use disorder at play. 

Warning Signs of Substance Abuse

Everyone will respond to the use of drugs or the consumption of alcohol differently, however, there are some common warning signs that you can watch for, if you are concerned. 

  • General decline in health.
  • Life, work, school or personal relationships are not being maintained.
  • Changes in spending habits or financial difficulties.
  • Physical changes, such as weight loss.
  • Drug-seeking behavior.
  • Recklessness.

As stated, there are many ways that people react differently when abusing. Not everyone will exhibit these traits and some may have none! If you are worried about yourself or a loved one, but are not sure, talking to a professional is always a safe first step. 

Substance Abuse Effects on the Body

Every drug, even ones prescribed by your doctor, has some kind of effect on the body. If your body doesn’t need them, some vitamins can even cause mild side effects and discomforts! Different drugs affect the body in different ways, and of course, everyone is different. The medium in which you intake (pills, smoking, inhaling) will also have a bearing on how your body is impacted. In general, you can guarantee that pretty much any substance that you abuse will harm your organs over time.

Here are some of the more generalized effects on the body:

  • Damage to most vital organs.
  • Increased risk of cancers.
  • Tooth decay or oral disease.
  • Changes in hair, be it baldness or excessive growth.
  • Severe impact on babies if using while pregnant.
  • Overwhelming withdrawal effects.

To understand further the degree that drugs or alcohol harm the body physically, let’s take a look at some of the more common substances and how they personally cause damage.

Smoked Substances

Any chemical that is ingested by smoking is going to be harmful to the body – be it nicotine, marijuana, meth or others. Smoking can cause serious damage to the mouth, lungs and throat, among many other effects. Here are some of the physical complications that can be caused by smokables:

  • Lung and heart disease.
  • Aging of the skin.
  • Throat, mouth or tongue cancers.
  • Asthma.
  • Chronic Bronchitis.
  • Tooth decay.
  • Gum disease.

Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol may just be one of the most largely consumed substances on this list. In fact, most drug abusers typically use while also drinking. It has become almost a staple in many adult social situations. For being a legal product that you can easily purchase in any gas station or grocery store, the toxic effects on the body are staggering. 

Before your next trip to the bar, try to remember that regular, over consumption of alcohol can have the following effects on your body:

  • Throat, mouth or esophageal cancer.
  • Cardiovascular disease.
  • Reduced immune system.
  • Higher risk of pneumonia or tuberculosis.
  • Live damage.
  • Pancreatitis.
  • Ulcers.
  • Infertility.
  • Diabetes
  • Thinning Bones.

Snorting Drugs

Ingesting drugs, such as cocaine, amphetamines or even heroin nasally presents its own set of medical problems. In general, snorting a drug causes a quicker onset of the high, and is more common for users after they begin to form a tolerance. 

Some of the risks associated with snorting substances include:

  • Damaging your nasal cavity and septum.
  • Losing sense of smell.
  • Damage to throat and difficulty swallowing.
  • Chronic sinus infections.
  • Miscarriage if pregnant.
  • Increased risk of heart attack.
  • Increased risk of stroke.

Injecting Substances

Injection drugs account for nearly a third of all cases of AIDS in the United States. Be it from sharing used or dirty equipment, or through reduced judgment or cognitive impairment, intravenous substance abuse is an enormous contributor to disease. Like snorting, many users get high with needles simply because of the speed and intensity of the high itself. 

Injection drugs pose some serious threats:

  • Increased risk of HIV.
  • Increased risk of Hepatitis.
  • Collapsed veins.
  • Puncture marks.
  • Skin infections, abscesses or cellulitis.
  • Reduced blood flow.
  • Heart Failure.
  • Stroke.
  • Weight loss.

Substance Abuse Effects on the Brain

As if the physical effects of using drugs or abusing alcohol wasn’t terrifying enough, it may actually be the brain itself that suffers the most. Emotional and mental deterioration is an enormous factor in substance abuse, because it is the brain that is changed to form the chemical bonds and dependency to the drugs you are intaking Just as your body is altered differently depending on your own health and makeup, your mind will be impacted in unique ways depending on what you take. 

Generally speaking here are some things that happen to you cognitively if you abuse drugs or alcohol:

  • Dependency or addiction.
  • Inability to feel pleasure in things you once enjoyed.
  • Impaired judgment.
  • Memory loss.
  • Reduced ability to learn.
  • Reduced motivation.
  • Insomnia.

Let’s take a closer look at common substances and how they affect your brain differently. 

Cannabis Abuse

As cannabis moves closer and closer to legality in the United States, it is important to understand that while there are some health benefits to medicinal marijuana as it is regulated and studied, there are also side effects to regular consumption of weed. The fact is that marijuana use, over time, does change the chemical workings of your brain. 

Here are some of the things that abuse can do:

  • Reduced cognitive function – makes it harder to learn, concentrate or retain new information.
  • Memory loss.
  • Linked to schizophrenia.
  • Makes you lazy or lethargic.
  • In extreme causes, can cause paranoia or psychosis.

Alcohol Consumption.

As we talked about earlier, alcohol misuse can actually shrink areas of your brain. Anyone who had a wild 21st birthday, or spent too much of their college years at a frat house will likely also have stories about being ‘black-out drunk’ and totally missing out sections of time. These types of situations do not come without damage to the mind!

Here is what excessive drinking may cause:

  • Loss of memory.
  • Impaired judgment.
  • Reduced coordination or reflexes.
  • Diminished brain development.
  • Depression or anxiety.
  • Confusion.

Cocaine Abuse

Abusing cocaine or other stimulants can lead to psychosis. This happens due to a lack of dopamine levels when you are under the influence of cocaine. Over time, regular use can cause extreme conditions such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. 

Effects of cocaine psychosis include:

  • Anxiety or depression.
  • Delusions.
  • Confusion.
  • Hallucination.
  • Paranoia.
  • Aggression.
  • Severely reduced cognitive function.

Opiate Abuse

While they share traits with other narcotics, it is important to note that opiates and opioids present a few unique traits. Abusing opiates such as heroin or pain-killers can actually reduce your ability to cope with pain and as such, you feel the effects of pain much more intensely. This, in turn, leads to additional or continued long term abuse.

Other mental effects from opiate substance abuse includes:

  • Mood swings.
  • Suicidal thoughts.
  • Recklessness.
  • Hallucinations.
  • Inability to feel pleasure.
  • Paranoia.
  • Seizures.

Meth Addiction

Long-term meth use actually causes molecular changes in the brain. Live opiates, meth users can find it very difficult to feel pleasure when they are not using, which fuels their addiction. While methamphetamines cause hallucinations as many other drugs do, unique to meth is that many hallucinations include the thought and sensation of insects crawling beneath the skin – leading to intense scratching and skin sores.

Common psychological side effects of meth abuse:

  • Hallucinations.
  • Aggression.
  • Insomnia.
  • Psychosis.
  • Paranoia.
  • Repetitive behaviors.
  • Reduced thinking and motor skills.

Reach Out

If you or someone you know is struggling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol or any substance, please reach out to us at 877-RECOVERY or 877-732-6837. Our team makes themselves available to take your call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Because We Care.

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