Health Problems Influenced by Substance Use Addictions
There are many health problems that are associated with substance abuse. These consist of damage to certain vital organs and systems in the body, psychological disorders, and the contraction of infectious disease.
The presence of drugs and Alcohol in the body’s systems—especially when use is excessive—can damage certain tissues and organs, as well as brain and nervous system functions. Some damage can be immediate, and some can accumulate over time, causing serious physical and psychological health conditions.
Additionally, certain methods that people use to administer drugs are known to cause bodily damage that results in disease. Some methods increase the risk of contracting infectious diseases that can be life-threatening.
Some health consequences of substance abuse and addiction are temporary, while others may affect a person’s health for the rest of his or her life. Here is a guide to some of the most common and significant ones.
In active addiction, people do not think of the negative repercussions that substance abuse has on the body. Living in recovery means taking control and focusing on your health.
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Major Organs Affected by Drug & Alcohol Addiction
Lung damage from drug use is common, because smoking is a typical method people use to ingest many different drugs. Smoking anything can increase the risk of lung infection and disease.
Smoking some substances can cause emphysema, Crack Cocaine for example is one of these. Of course, smoking cigarettes, which happens often in tandem with substance abuse, also causes emphysema and lung cancer. Additionally, the effects of certain substances can cause lung problems. For example, Heroin and other Opiates cause a person’s breathing to become slower and shallower. This can cause several lung conditions because foreign matter isn’t expelled properly.
Fluid may gather in the lungs, known as pulmonary edema, or infection can happen and cause pus to collect. Pneumonia is also more likely. These conditions can cause shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing up mucus that may contain blood, and make it hard to breath if you are lying down.
Substance abuse is known to affect the heart, causing multiple conditions that can be dangerous. The effects of many substances can cause there to be excessive strain on the arteries and restrict blood flow. Drugs that most heavily affect the heart are Amphetamines, Cocaine, and Steroids.
Amphetamines, such as Methamphetamine, can cause arrhythmias or irregularities in the heartbeat. They may cause heart attacks, by restricting the blood flow and oxygen in certain parts of the heart. Cocaine can cause heart attacks for the same reason, as the blood pressure and heart rate rise while blood vessels are restricted. Cocaine also damages the cardiac muscle, due to an imbalanced amount of calcium. It can also cause strokes and aneurysms.
Steroids are known to cause abnormalities in blood pressure and other heart problems as well. Steroids can induce irregular heartbeat, heart muscle damage, stroke, heart failure, as well as blockages in arteries and veins.
Kidneys and Liver
The main function of the kidneys and the liver is to process and filter toxins that enter the body. Since Alcohol and drugs are toxins , these organs have to work very hard when substances are abused.
The liver breaks down harmful substances and then passes them into the blood or bile. After this, whatever is in the bile goes to the intestines and exits via feces. What goes to the blood will be dealt with in the kidneys and leave via urine. Because of how connected the function of these organs are, it is common to have liver disease and kidney dysfunction simultaneously. If the liver stops functioning properly, the kidneys must work harder and so may start to malfunction.
Alcohol can cause liver disease and eventually cirrhosis , which is permanent scarring of the liver. Alcohol, Cocaine, Heroin, MDMA, Inhalants, Meth and Painkillers can all damage the liver and kidneys.
How Substance Abuse Addiction Influences Mental Health
Alcohol or drugs can exacerbate the symptoms of preexisting psychological conditions. Alternatively, someone with no known history of mental illness can develop a mood disorder from substance abuse. Substance Use Disorder alongside another mental health condition is called a co-occurring disorder.
Mood disorders, Depression or Bipolar Disorder , are the most common co-occurring disorders with substance abuse. Bipolar and Depression symptoms both become worsened from excessive consumption of Alcohol and Drugs.
Some people are genetically inclined to a mood disorder, but never express symptoms strong enough to be clinically relevant. The use of substances, though, seems to trigger strange activity or changes in certain neuropathways that are already unusual in these people. This causes previously manageable and unnoticed abnormalities to become more significant.
Depression and Bipolar Disorder can sustain even in recovery—including those who hadn’t experienced issues before their addictions began. Luckily, addressing co-occurring disorders is integral to most addiction treatment practices.
As with Mood Disorders, there are many people with Schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders whose symptoms worsen from substance abuse. There are also cases of drug-induced psychosis and paranoia when a person develops symptoms that resemble these psychiatric conditions from alcohol or drug use.
This is usually referred to as drug-induced or substance-induced psychosis. Depending on the substance, as well as the length, quantity, and frequency of use, psychosis can persist for varying amounts of time.
Symptoms may only be present while a drug is in the body’s systems in some cases, while they can persist for months into sobriety or indefinitely in other cases.
The most common drugs that cause paranoia and psychosis are Methamphetamine, as well as other Amphetamine analogs, psychedelic drugs, and Crack Cocaine. Meth is particularly notorious for causing persistent psychosis that lasts beyond sobriety. Psychedelic drugs can also do this, especially if the person has a preexisting condition of mental illness or is predisposed genetically.
Actual Brain Damage
Substance abuse can also take a toll on a person’s psyche via brain damage. Many mind-altering substances can cause literal physical damage to the brain. This can limit a person in a number of ways depending on the type and severity of the brain damage.
Some drugs, like Meth and other Amphetamines, are actually neurotoxic. This means that they change the nervous system’s activities in a way that can damage and kill nerve cells. Alcohol, at certain levels and frequency, is also neurotoxic. Other drugs that are neurotoxic are MDMA and Dissociatives, like PCP, DXM and Ketamine.
Another way that substances can cause brain damage is via overdose. If a person stops breathing or breathes too shallowly during an Opiate overdose, the brain won’t receive enough oxygen. This can cause brain cells to die. Overdosing can also cause heart attacks and strokes, which may result in brain damage.
Common Infectious Diseases Associated with Drug & Alcohol Addictions
There are several diseases that people in active addiction are prone to contracting or developing. HIV, or Human Immunodeficiency Virus, is a life-threatening infectious disease that affects the immune system. There are two ways that individuals in active addiction may contract HIV: needle sharing and risky sexual activity.
Infection of HIV is possible via the transfer of, or specific types of contact with, blood, semen, pre-ejaculate or vaginal fluid. Anyone who uses drugs intravenously could contract it by sharing a needle with another person. Unsafe sexual practices that do not incorporate proper protection can also result in the contraction of HIV.
HIV inhibits the immune system so that the body is vulnerable to other diseases that it would normally fight off with ease. Minor illnesses can become life-threatening if HIV goes untreated. Luckily, while there is no cure, there is advanced anti-retroviral treatment now that eliminates most consequences of HIV.
Hepatitis is another infectious disease that people with addiction are susceptible to. As with all infectious disease—like HIV—Hepatitis is contracted via contact with, or transfer of, blood and certain bodily fluids. So sharing needles and partaking in unsafe sex leads some people to contract Hepatitis during active addiction.
Hepatitis is a disease of the liver that can be life-threatening if it isn’t treated. Hepatitis B and C are the most common viral forms of the disease. These viruses trigger a natural reaction of the immune system, which exhibits an inflammatory response. Sadly, this inflammation causes cells in the liver to be damaged or to die.
While Hepatitis is dangerous, there are high-quality treatments available that use antiviral drugs to eliminate the disease. The goal of treatment is Sustained Virologic Response (SVR), which is when the virus is undetected in the blood for twelve weeks or more.
Diabetes is a little different than the above diseases, as it is not infectious. People who abuse substances can be more likely to develop type 2 Diabetes, which usually occurs later in adulthood. Type 2 Diabetes is when the body becomes incapable of properly utilizing insulin—known as insulin resistance.
Insulin should help the body to process sugar from the food that is ingested. With Diabetes, this function isn’t happening and so glucose—sugar—builds up in the blood. High blood sugar levels can be dangerous and life-threatening.
There are three different types of drug treatment for type 2 Diabetes. There are drugs that make the body more sensitive to insulin, drugs that make the body produce more insulin and drugs that work to lower blood sugar levels. Most importantly, proper diet and exercise are required, and often all that is needed to stabilize blood sugar levels in type 2 Diabetes patients.
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NIDA. (2017, March 23). Health Consequences of Drug Misuse. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/health-consequences-drug-misuse on 2019, February 21
Schulte, M. T., & Hser, Y. I. (2014). Substance Use and Associated Health Conditions throughout the Lifespan. Public health reviews, 35(2), https://web-beta.archive.org/web/20150206061220/http://www.publichealthreviews.eu/upload/pdf_files/14/00_Schulte_Hser.pdf.