There are lots of reasons that a person might become addicted to drugs or alcohol. We’ve talked about it before here (1) and it is a topic that has been discussed at length all over the web. There are already enough words out there about all of the psychological reasons to avoid addictive substances. Today we’re going to focus on what happens to your body and your brain when you abuse drugs and booze.
There is little doubt that addiction hits the brain hard. This is true both psychologically as well as physically (2). We’ve all seen those “this is your brain on drugs” commercials.
Drugs interfere with the way our brains neurons and synapses usually fire. The brain thinks that it has produced those hormones so continued use actually causes the brain to stop producing them naturally which is why, in the case of some drugs, you do literally need to keep using so that your brain will feel healthy (3).
Everybody knows that smoking cigarettes and marijuana can increase a person’s chances of developing lung cancer and other pulmonary disorders. It isn’t just the drugs that force you to inhale them, though, that can cause problems. Intravenous drugs (or drugs that are smashed up and “turned into” intravenous substances) can also cause problems because their particles can penetrate the blood barrier between blood vessels and lung tissue. (4) This can cause granulomas to form which lead to a whole host of other problems like bronchitis, cancer, etc.
The Digestive System
In many cases drug abuse can lead to weight gain and an increased risk (and sometimes even realization of) obesity. There are also studies that show that orally ingested drugs and alcohol can cause vascular complications in the stomach, colitis and other problems like colon and rectal cancer. (5) Yikes!
The Excretory System
That alcohol can damage the liver is old news. This is why, if someone needs a transplanted organ, they need to have a significant length of sobriety before they will be allowed on the transplant list. The kidneys are also incredibly vulnerable. Drugs wreak havoc on the way the kidneys filter our bodies’ waste (and really, drugs and alcohol contain very little nutrients the body actually needs and can use) and can lead to infection, sepsis and even organ failure.
Different drugs affect the heart in different ways. Opium, for example, reduces a person’s heart rate. Cocaine can speed it up the heart rate, raise your blood pressure and even bring on a heart attack. Heroin can cause infections of the heart’s lining tissues and the heart’s valves. Methamphetamine can cause an irregular heart beat (as well as a host of other problems). LSD can cause blood pressure and heart rate to rise so significantly that the heart fails. These are just some examples of how the heart is affected by specific drugs. Know, though, that any drug that affects your blood is going to have an adverse effect on your heart.
Your Reproductive System
Drug abuse can cause menstrual irregularities in women, testicular irregularities (often hardening and shrinkage) in men and cancer of the reproductive organs in both genders. This is a leading factor in why so many people who abuse drugs have low to no sex drive. Ironically, drug use also increases the risk of unplanned pregnancy.
In addition to internal body damage, drug and alcohol abuse can wreak havoc on your skin, hair and nails. There are very few parts of the body that aren’t adversely affected, biologically speaking, by using drugs and alcohol. This is why it is important, in addition to getting therapeutic help when you decide to get clean that you work with a physician to get your physical health back on track as well.
1. “The Underlying Causes of Drug Addiction – Health and Beauty Diva.” Health and Beauty Diva. Health and Beauty Diva, 23 Nov. 2009. Web. 21 June 2015. http://healthandbeautydiva.com/the-underlying-causes-of-drug-addiction/
2. “The Referring Professional’s Guide | Dual Diagnosis.” Dual Diagnosis. DualDiagnosis.org. Web. 21 June 2015. http://www.dualdiagnosis.org/referring-professionals-guide/
3. “Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction.” Drugs and the Brain. National Institute of Drug Abuse, 1 July 2014. Web. 21 June 2015. http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/drugs-brain
4. Laudenbach, Karen, Jan Koch, and Bernd Seese. “Granulomatous Interstitial Lung Disease in a Long-term Drug Abuser.” Granulomatous Interstitial Lung Disease in a Long-term Drug Abuser. Scientific Research, 1 July 2010. Web. 21 June 2015. http://www.scirp.org/journal/PaperInformation.aspx?PaperID=2237#.VYcaeUCUzGc
5. “Result Filters.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2008. Web. 21 June 2015. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19069706
*Image Credit: freedigitalphotos.net
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