Substance Abuse Related Health Problems

Due to the effect on the brain and body as a whole, addiction can cause many different health problems and risk of severe illness and death. According to the NIDA, drug abuse and addiction can result in cardiovascular and lung disease, stroke, cancer, and an increased risk of contracting HIV/AIDS and hepatitis. Individually, each drug group has its own risks and problems.

The use of narcotics increases one’s risk of contracting HIV/Aids. Often associated with the sharing of needles, used or dirty needles transmit blood between users, many times without discussion of the previous users HIV/AIDS status. In areas with a high rate of drug use, organizations dedicated to HIV/AIDS awareness have begun to distribute clean, unused needles to drug users and collecting used needles in an effort to decrease the transmission of HIV/AIDS in the community.

Inhalants may cause decay or corrosion of cartilage in the nose. Sporadic and reoccurring nosebleeds are commonly attributed to chronic use of inhalants. Long-term use can also result in heart, kidney, liver, and brain damage. Decreased cognitive function and memory loss are also attributed to the long-term use of inhalants.

Narcotics, including heroin, morphine, and codeine, all derived from opium, are known to cause a number of different risks, many that are dependent on the specific type of narcotic being used, but may include: drowsiness; delayed reaction time; and loss of cognitive function. Addiction to narcotics generally includes: seizures; convulsions; coma; permanent loss of cognitive function; and memory loss.

Addiction to stimulants puts strain on the heart muscle and blood vessels which can result in heart attack. These drugs speed up metabolism which increases adrenaline in the body and creates protein that in turn destroys lean body mass. Malnutrition can develop due to loss of appetite. Abuse also burns out serotonin reserves in the brain which can cause mood crashes and inability to stabilize thoughts and feelings.

Depressants, some of which are commonly prescribed by physicians to decrease tension or anxiety, can cause extensive long-term damage if abused or used in any way other than prescribed. Risks associated with depressants generally include: damage to the nervous system; dizziness; impaired response time and cognitive function; amnesia; and extreme depression as a result of a developed chemical dependence.

Hallucinogens interrupt the neocortex function in the brain, which controls intellect and instinct. They cause illusions and hallucinations, block pain receptors, which can result in serious self-inflicted harm; and may lead to paranoia and aggression.

The extreme, excessive, or frequent use of drugs may cause the user to overdose; an overdose can result in brain damage, long-term health problems, and in some cases can be fatal. The signs of an overdose are very specific to the drug involved, but may include: slurred speech; unconsciousness; slowed or rapid heart and pulse rate; and seizures.

More information on the short and long-term effects of substance abuse and addiction:

Medical Consequences of Drug Abuse
Substance Abuse: What You Should Know to Protect Yourself
How Methamphetamine Destroys the Body
Heroin Addiction and Its Effects
Marijuana’s Effects on the Brain
PCP Drug Fact Sheet
Narcotics & Dangerous Drug Information
Drugs Interfere with Neurotransmitters
Prescription Drug Addiction and Risks