People that abuse drugs and alcohol over a long period of time can do significant damage to their health. The longer a person is active in their addiction to substances, the more stress it creates on their body and brain. Even if they can quit substances and adopt a healthy lifestyle, they can experience health issues that can impact their quality of life. These health issues are not only seen on a physical level, but they are also seen on a psychological level. The following article highlights the most common long-term effects of drug addiction.
In many instances, a person’s addiction to drugs and alcohol is a symptom of a deeper issue. It may be surprising to know that a significant percentage of addicts also struggle with a mental disorder. According to statistics from the website Dual Diagnosis, it is estimated that up to 65.5% of people with a substance dependence disorder had at least one mental health condition, and 51% of people with a mental disorder had at least one substance abuse disorder.
The most common of these mental disorders are anxiety, depression, and PTSD. People who abuse drugs and alcohol may have an underlying mental health condition but choose to self-medicate instead of seeking help due to stigma. In other cases, substance abuse (along with other social and environmental factors) can lead to the development of mental illness.
Liver Dysfunction and Disease
Another major long-term effect of drug addiction is its impact on the liver and kidney function. Long-term drug and alcohol abuse overwhelm the liver and its ability to eliminate toxins. As a result, addicts can experience major health issues such as cirrhosis, fatty liver disease and liver cancer. Worse yet, the liver can develop necrosis where liver cells can be severely damaged and die. While liver dysfunction and disease are mostly associated with alcohol abuse, it can also occur as a result of opioid dependence or through the prolonged use of inhalants.
Long-term substance abuse also can have tremendous impacts on the cardiovascular system. Drugs and alcohol often cause wide swings in blood pressure and heart rate. Drug and alcohol abusers can experience long-term effects, such as high blood pressure, heart arrhythmia, and artery disease. Drug abuse can also cause abnormal blood clotting. If clots form, they can travel to the heart or brain and cause hemorrhages, strokes, and heart attacks. Additionally, substances can narrow the walls of the arteries, which over time, can result in substance abusers developing coronary artery disease.
The kidneys play a crucial role in filtering out toxins that accumulate in the body. Long-term abuse of drugs and alcohol can cause dehydration, muscle tissue breakdown, and an increase in overall body temperature. These phenomena negatively impact kidney functioning and can create a wide array of issues that can become life-threatening. These include the following:
- Electrolyte disturbances or imbalances
- Alcoholic ketoacidosis—a serious condition which is characterized by dangerously high blood acidity
- Rhabdomyolysis—the breakdown of muscle tissue that releases proteins into the bloodstream, which can obstruct the kidneys.
- Bacterial and Fungal Infections
- Stenosis—the narrowing of renal arteries
For those who smoke or inject drugs, they can experience severe respiratory complications. The most obvious example is seen in those who smoke cigarettes. Nicotine and other chemicals found in cigarettes hamper the ability of the respiratory system to form mucus, which traps microbes and other irritants that can be flushed from the body. The smoke hardens the walls of the respiratory system, which can cause conditions such as asthma, COPD, and lung cancer to develop.
Additionally, those who snort drugs such as cocaine can permanently damage nasal tissue and run an increased risk of developing nasal infections. Worse yet, those who snort drugs over a prolonged period can experience decay and death of nasal membranes. Other conditions include pulmonary edema (a build-up of fluid in the lungs), reduced oxygen intake (hypoxia), and chronic respiratory infections.
Get Help Today
If you or loved one has been struggling with drug addiction and are experiencing health issues, you must seek professional help right away. Fortunately, there are many quality drug treatment programs available that provide the medical and mental health interventions needed to help minimize medical and mental health issues. Along with therapy, 12-step support, and other interventions, you can overcome substance abuse and experience lasting recovery.