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Long Term Health Effects of Drug Abuse

Long Term Health Effects of Drug Abuse - man sitting in the shadows with drugs on the tableWhen a person chooses to use drugs, they accept the short term risks associated with using their drug of choice.

This may include the drug causing a heart attack, breathing problems or an overdose. A drug user might not be focused on the long term health effects of drug abuse when they are thinking about where they are going to get their next dose.

Physical Health Effects of Long Term Drug Abuse

Putting chemicals in your body over a period of time can lead to a number of physical and mental health consequences. The specific effects will vary from person to person, depending on their metabolism, the type and quantity of drug ingested and the amount of time they were using.

Changes to the Brain

Addictive substances act on the brain’s reward system. When someone takes an addictive drug, they experience a feeling of intense pleasure. The experience is much more potent than pleasure derived from naturally pleasurable activities (eating, playing, spending time with a friend).

This level of stimulation is much higher than the brain is accustomed to processing.The brain changes by lowering its number of dopamine receptors. Dopamine is a chemical transmitter in the brain responsible for

  • Attention
  • Cognitive Function
  • Learning
  • Memory
  • Mood
  • Pleasure/Reward
  • Sleep

The brain’s adaptations make it less responsive to subsequent doses of the drug. A user will need to take more to get the same effect (tolerance). They also make the brain less responsive to natural sources of pleasure.

With long-term use, the parts of the brain that are responsible for learning, decision-making, and memory also change. Behaviors associated with finding and using drugs become “hard wired” into the brain. The changes can last for a number of years. For this reason, managing sobriety is a challenge for those with substance abuse issues.

Accelerated Cell Aging

Everyone has a chronological age in years. The cells in the human body have a biological age that is based on the following factors:

  • Genetics
  • Environment
  • Behavior
  • Disease

Accelerated cell aging occurs when the biological age of the cells is “older” than a person’s chronological age. Cocaine has been linked to heart and arterial damage issues, as well as stroke in some users. It is responsible for approximately 40 percent of Emergency Room admissions due to illicit drug use.

Drug addiction can lead to early onset of age-related diseases, such as pulmonary hypertension due to methamphetamine use. This condition occurs when the arteries supplying the lungs become blocked or narrowed. The heart has to work harder to pump blood through them, resulting in high blood pressure. The heart weakens, which may eventually lead to heart failure.

Weakened Immune System

Methamphetamine users are putting a drug into their bodies that leads to extreme tooth decay over time (“meth mouth”). It also weakens the immune system, leaving users susceptible to various types of infectious diseases.

Meth users who inject the drug are putting themselves at risk for contracting HIV. In some instances, the disease progresses to AIDS within a relatively short time due to the immune system being compromised already.

Fertility Issues (Men)

The active ingredient in marijuana, THC, disrupts normal testosterone levels. Sex drive is lowered and sperm production decreases. The sperm being produced has a lower-than-normal mobility rate.

Using opioids (prescription medications and illicit drugs) can also negatively effect male fertility. This class of drugs can cause low testosterone levels, which decreases both the quantity and quality of a man’s sperm. The level of impact depends on the length of time the drugs were used, the type of drug, and the amount.

Mental Health Effects of Long Term Drug Abuse

Increased Anxiety

Sedatives, like diazepam (Valium), are meant to be used over a short time to relieve symptoms of anxiety, seizures or muscle spasms. When they are taken over the long term, it can lead to unwanted health issues. Many people find that they have increased anxiety instead of getting relief from their symptoms while using the drug. The symptoms don’t respond well to other anxiety medications at that point.

Paranoia and Delusions

In some instances, long-term drug use can mimic a psychiatric condition. Long-term heavy users of street cocaine and meth may experience periods of “temporary paranoid delusional states.” A person experiencing this type of psychotic episode may remain in this state for weeks, months or years.

Increased Risk of Suicide

Researchers have found that heroin users are more likely than the general population to die from suicide. The death rate is 13 times higher, and the suicide rate for heroin users is 14 times higher than the general population.

If you or someone you love is in need of alcohol or drug treatment, contact us anytime at (713) 769-0102. We are here to help.

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Drugs and Male Fertility. Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved July, 2017.
Drug Use Changes the Brain Over Time. Genetic Science Learning Center. Retrieved July, 2017.
Salamanca et al. (2014). Impact of methamphetamine on infection and immunity. Frontiers in Neuroscience, 8, 445.
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