Virtually every schoolchild learns that drugs are potentially addictive and that addiction can kill. Escaping the worst consequences of addiction doesn’t mean you’re out of the woods, though. Addiction harms your health and well-being in dozens of ways, and seeking help now is the best thing you can do to mitigate the effects addiction has on your life, health, and well-being.
Drugs and alcohol can dramatically undermine your physical health and well-being. Alcohol use is the third-leading cause of preventable death, killing 88,000 people each year. And drug overdoses are the leading cause of accidental death, with 100 Americans dying every day due to accidental drug overdoses. Some of the other ways addiction affects your physical health include:
- Stunted development among children and teens who begin using drugs before they’re done growing.
- Cardiovascular problems such as congestive heart failure, high blood pressure, circulatory disorders, heart attack, and stroke.
- Broken or damaged blood vessels and easy bruising.
- Skin problems, including skin infections, lesions, burns, and rashes.
- Loss of your hair.
- Brittle, unhealthy nails.
- Oral health problems, including gum disease, periodontitis, and loss of teeth. Oral health problems can affect your overall health, particularly when an oral infection spreads to other areas of the body.
- Liver problems such as cirrhosis of the liver and hepatitis.
- Kidney problems such as kidney failure and kidney stones.
- Frequent infections, including urinary tract infections, yeast infections, cold, flu, and increases susceptibility to other communicable infections.
- The transmission of blood-borne illnesses such as HIV/AIDS.
- Loss of muscle tone.
- Malnutrition due to metabolic changes and appetite suppression.
- Obesity due to drug-related food cravings.
- Respiratory problems such as snoring, sleep apnea, chronic coughing, and shortness of breath.
- Coma, seizures, and sudden death.
- Dangerous physical withdrawal symptoms and syndromes. Delirium tremens among long-term alcoholics, for example, can lead to serious complications, including death.
- Difficulty swallowing.
- Sinus problems such as frequent infections, chronic runny nose, or nosebleeds.
- Gastrointestinal problems such as frequent vomiting or diarrhea.
- Brain damage including death of brain cells, damage to your brain, and changes in cognition.
The health effects of addiction will only get worse if you continue to abuse alcohol or drugs. Some health effects may be irreversible, particularly if you are a long-term addict. In many cases, though, quitting now means that you can soon look forward to a reduction or full-scale elimination of your symptoms.
Drugs and alcohol spur dramatic mental health problems, particularly when you’re under the influence or experiencing strong cravings. PCP users, for example, can become extremely violent while paranoia is common among methamphetamine users. Even after you come down from the high, though, drug use can affect your long and short-term mental health in a number of ways:
- Psychosis is a common outcome of excessive drug use, and distorts your sense of self and reality.
- Many drugs yield paradoxical effects over the long-term. Smoking marijuana to deal with depression, for example, can cause your brain’s chemistry to change over time, eventually leading to worse depression.
- Psychological withdrawal can be intense and painful. In addition to overpowering drug cravings, you may experience depression, anxiety, anger, hostility, hopelessness, and paranoia.
- Distorting your judgment and sense of reality, causing you to make dangerous choices you wouldn’t typically make.
- Undermining your ability to relate to others, leading to problems in your closest relationships; many addicts find themselves cut off by the people they love the most.
- The worsening of pre-existing mental health conditions.
- The development of new mental health conditions. Drugs and alcohol change your neurochemistry, and sometimes the changes are permanent. When this happens, you may struggle with mental illness even after you kick the habit.
- False beliefs and hallucinations.
- Nightmares, sleep disturbances, insomnia, and night terrors.
- Excessive sleeping that interferes with your work, school, or relationships.
The effects of addiction extend past the individual. It should come as no surprise that watching a family member battle addiction can be extremely painful for loved ones, and that addicts frequently hurt the people they love the most. Addiction can also harm people the addict doesn’t even know, as well as future generations, as evidenced by these statistics:
- Every year, alcohol use during pregnancy causes 40,000 babies to be born with fetal alcohol syndrome, a disease that stunts growth and development and that can cost thousands to treat.
- Between 15% and 20% of prison inmates say they committed the crime for which they are currently incarcerated to get money for drugs.
- Between 3% and 6% of homicides are related to drugs
- Excluding murder, 40% of all violent crimes are due to alcohol use.
- 90% of acquaintance rapes occur while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
- Addiction contributes to community blight by creating drug-infested neighborhoods, spurring drug-related crime, and creating communities that aren’t safe for all members.