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4 Irreversible Health Effects of Drug Addiction To Watch Out For

Medically Approved by Dr. Edward Salko

Table of Contents

When it comes to drug abuse, time is of the essence. The earlier you seek intervention and treatment, the more chances you can regain your health.

Years of research established the adverse impact of unregulated drug use that extends to family and society as a whole. Some effects are shorter, while others linger for the longest time.

Nonetheless, these physical and psychological effects can escalate into irreversible health conditions. The worst of which is brought about by overdosing that could lead to death. 

From 1999 to 2017, over 700,000 people have lost their lives due to drug overdose. And If, by any chance, you avoid this fatal consequence of drug addiction, you’re still at risk for health issues that will most likely remain permanent. 

Commonly Abused Drugs

Drugs are primarily intended to improve health. However, several prescription medications and other substances have addictive properties providing a temporary state of euphoria, relief, calm, and the overall feel-good mental state. This is on top of illicit drugs that could drive you spiraling and even hallucinating for hours.

In the US, drug use has taken a rampant turn. For some cohorts, experiencing recreational drug use has been normalized. Until, of course, that one-time experience turns into a destructive lifestyle.

While illegal substances are often associated with addiction in general, it is the over-the-counter prescription drugs that are frequently misused.

Nevertheless, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, here are some of the commonly abused drugs through SAMHSA.

  • Marijuana
  • Painkillers
  • Cocaine
  • Sedatives
  • Hallucinogens
  • Stimulants
  • Methamphetamine
  • Inhalants
  • Heroin

Signs of Drug Addiction

For many years, the word “addiction” has been tossed around as a personal choice. But, as we know by now, substance addiction, whether it pertains to alcohol, nicotine, or drugs, is a psychological disorder and should be treated as one.

While drug addiction requires a certain level of self-realization, the process may take a long time, especially when there is denial in the equation. Hence, people surrounding a drug user often become instrumental in detecting addiction. 

For starters, they can identify drug abuse and addiction through the following signs:

  • Failure to show up or perform at work, school, or routine activities
  • Disinterest in grooming, decent clothing, and general physical well being
  • Isolation and detachment from social groups
  • Overspending and borrowing large sums of money
  • Weight loss and changes in appetite
  • Behavioral changes towards people (hostility, indifference, secrecy)
  • Drastic changes in physical appearance (bloodshot eyes and skin problems)

The Dangers of Drug Addiction

Most people who have become addicted to drugs are after that neurological state of satisfaction when they use illegal substances or misuses OTC drugs. These effects are short-term but definitely addictive. Afterward, the negative impacts come into play.

People may experience the following adverse effects after drug use.

  • Slow reaction time
  • Increased anxiety
  • Paranoia
  • High blood pressure and heart rate
  • Memory problems
  • Unusual and frequent cravings
  • Heightened senses

Naturally, continuous drug use leading to addiction harbors more harm to your physical and mental state. While these substances may have varied chemical compositions, they share the same fatal risks if consumed in large quantities.

Drug Overdose 

Death becomes an immediate consequence when a person abuses illicit drugs or prescribed medications beyond the recommended medical dose. 

Drug overdose accounts for most drug-related deaths in the US. It can either be accidental or intentional. 

Depending on the substance, the number of drugs in your bloodstream can eventually lead to poisoning that deteriorates physiological functions. 

In some cases, liver failure becomes the trigger for death as the organ cannot detoxify the drugs.

While overdose seems like the extent of drug use consequences, you can still save a life if you observe signs of a drug overdose before it’s too late.

  • Irregular vital signs (blood pressure, temperature, heart rate, pulse rate)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Loss of consciousness

Nonetheless, above these signs, if you are aware that you or another person has consumed beyond the acceptable dosage, get to the hospital as quickly as possible.

Long-term Health Effects of Drug Addiction

While it is horrifying to think about drug overdose, there is still a higher likelihood that people who abuse or misuse substances like heroin, cocaine, painkillers, etc., won’t have to deal with overdose at all. 

As they are aware of how serious overdose is, chances are, they will have to ensure some degree of management in their consumption. 

However, even if your drug addiction will not bring you close to an overdose, you will most likely suffer irreversible and long-term health consequences.

What’s even more unfortunate is that most people suffering from these health conditions only quit at the onset of the disease or disorder. This means that it could already be too late. 

Nonetheless, awareness of these serious medical consequences can be instrumental for sobriety.

Here are some of the most serious and irreversible health impacts of drug addiction.

  1. Chronic health conditions
  2. Brain damage
  3. Mental illnesses
  4. Dental and oral deteriorations

1. Chronic Health Conditions

Although each drug poses particular threats to your health, they found some common ground on the development of grave health conditions like cardiovascular diseases.

Whether they are amphetamines, heroin, methamphetamine, marijuana, or painkillers, all these drugs lead to arrhythmia, blood vessel constriction, and even stroke. While these conditions can be managed through proper treatment, it still depends on the level of damage caused by the drugs. 

Sadly, in most cases, these damages are deemed irreversible, and the condition becomes lifelong.

Furthermore, drugs like steroids and inhalants can also cause severe liver damage, especially when combined with alcohol. As the liver functions to detoxify the body, the organ will most likely collapse when subjected to frequent and high drug dosage.

On the other hand, there have been conflicting studies on the effects of drugs like opioids and cannabis (marijuana) when it comes to cancer.

Some research shows that these drugs have the potential to inhibit tumor growth. However, several findings also support the notion that these drugs have carcinogenic effects, which means they can most likely cause cancer.

But regardless of these contrasting data, one thing is clear, as pointed out by clinical trials. Drug addiction can only amplify the adverse effects of the substance and minimize its intended health benefits. 

Hence, even if these drugs have promising anti-cancer properties, if you use them beyond the recommended dosage, these properties will most likely be canceled out.

2. Brain Damage

The brain is perhaps the most affected organ when it comes to drug abuse. 

Any illicit drug or prescribed medication directly impacts brain activity, specifically on the functions of the neurons and chemical substances known as neurotransmitters.

In a study conducted by John Hopkins Hospital, acute brain injury was found among adolescents who abused illicit drugs. Brain abnormalities were detected through neuroimaging patterns. These findings highlighted the anatomical changes caused by drug addiction.

As the brain functions to regulate every other vital organ in the body, any permanent changes can significantly affect a person’s overall function and survival.

For example, stimulants such as amphetamines and cocaine trigger the release of large amounts of the neurotransmitter dopamine, enhancing energy levels and focus. 

Despite the enticing effects of these stimulants, they can also cause neurological damage brought by brain cell death and constant alterations in neurotransmitters.

Some of these drugs are downright illegal, while others can be purchased with a prescription. Two of the most popular prescription stimulants are Adderall and Ritalin.    

On the other hand, marijuana is still considered to have several unwanted health effects. Despite being dubbed as “harmless” by cannabis enthusiasts, once this substance is abused, it still holds significant harm to the brain.

According to research by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, marijuana can lower IQ as cognition is affected by impairments in brain connectivity.

These conditions should not be taken lightly as they can permanently alter how you live the rest of your days. 

3. Mental Illnesses

Since drugs have acute adverse effects on the brain, the mental state will naturally be affected. As a result, mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety disorders are associated with drug use.

Medically speaking, some prescribed drugs are often used to manage existing mental disorders. Painkillers and mood regulators are intended to treat severe anxiety disorders. 

However, when these substances are used outside the medical requirement, the effects seem to be reversed. 

Opioids, for example, are sometimes used to manage depression. But if consumed in large amounts, they can trigger depression – the same condition they sought to treat.

Luckily, depression can still be reversed by effective intervention strategies. However, there are several mental illnesses triggered by drug addiction that would require lifelong treatment. One of which is schizophrenia.

Schizophrenia is a mental disorder characterized by the inability to distinguish reality from hallucinations or delusions. Genetic factors often cause it. This condition can be aggravated by drug addiction. 

There has been no direct causative relationship between schizophrenia and drug use. However, drugs like marijuana, amphetamines, and cocaine can worsen the condition leading to lifelong treatment.  

4. Dental and Oral deterioration

Drug abusers often find themselves with poor oral health, especially those who regularly use illicit drugs. Therefore, the effects of drug addiction on oral hygiene are regarded as an expected outcome.

After all, most drug-dependent individuals tend to neglect their physical well being altogether. However, the level of oral health deterioration in relation to drug addiction is even worse than you can think of.

Marijuana, for example, contains substances that cause acidic erosion in the enamel of the teeth, which speeds up decay and cavities. On top of the dental issues, marijuana can also cause inflammation of the gums and even tongue cancer.

Likewise, other cases of oral health issues come with methamphetamine addiction. For example, the term “meth mouth” is described to have severe gum and dental deterioration that the teeth can easily break or fall out.

Treating Drug Addiction

If you want to quit drugs, the first thing you need to realize is that you can’t and don’t have to do it alone. 

Some people are more than willing to be by your side as you work your way out of this addiction. Also, the process isn’t straightforward, so you will need all the help you can get.

In the process of treating drug addiction, the following procedures are involved.

  • Detoxification
  • Behavioral counseling
  • Regulated medications
  • Drug screening blood tests
  • Use of medical devices during withdrawal
  • Long-term follow-up

Perhaps the most plausible way to get help is to coordinate with an existing recovery program. It could be through a rehabilitation facility or anonymous communities. 

Contact your local health center to get the right program you need.

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