Health Issues Caused by Alcohol and Drug Addiction

Medical staff in a hurry move patient into operating theater

Alcohol or drug addiction has wide-ranging impacts on the body and all of its functional systems, causing specific health problems and mental disorders, as well as changing how the entire body regulates things like appetite and body temperature. When individuals try to stop using a substance, they may face other physically uncomfortable or dangerous withdrawal symptoms.

Traditional and alternative drug rehab programs work with clients to combat the physical and mental illnesses that can result from drug use. Let’s discuss the health issues associated with addiction, which substances are linked to disease, and how people can limit or reverse the physical dangers of substance use.

The Whole Body or Global Effect

In addition to specific diseases involving multiple body systems, substance abuse affects the entire person. Drug or alcohol use has both direct and indirect effects on the body and, over time, these may cause systemic disease; however, negative changes begin almost immediately. Some of the direct effects of the drug are physically dangerous even for a first-time user, especially for substances like:

  • Cocaine, prescription stimulants, methamphetamine
  • Heroin, fentanyl, prescription opioids or sedatives
  • Hallucinogens, inhalants, MDMA, steroids
  • Alcohol

By changing the heart rate, respiration, body temperature, appetite, or brain function, these substances can directly cause serious illnesses and risks to personal safety. Some of these include heart attack, stroke, psychosis, or overdose.

Long-term use can cause indirect effects, as well, including unintended addiction, loss of sexual function or fertility, memory problems, and impaired decision-making. Substance use disorders are classified as a type of mental illness and can change how the brain functions. This makes it difficult for users to recognize the developing signs of diseases.

Catching or Transmitting an Infectious Disease

Another immediate risk that grows over time is the risk of infection. Using injectable drugs or engaging in risky behaviors while under the influence can increase a person’s risk of contracting a dangerous infectious disease. Shared needles and unprotected intimate contact can lead to HIV infection, hepatitis, or other life-threatening infections.

Drugs which are commonly injected include:

  • Cocaine, methamphetamine
  • Heroin, prescription painkillers
  • Steroids or other performance enhancers

While these diseases are serious and carry a social stigma, they are treatable. Individuals can still enter rehab centers in Los Angeles and around the country to participate in treatment programs with supportive therapy and necessary medical care to tackle addiction.

Increased Cancer Risk

Many drugs are associated with developing cancer. Smoking a substance carries with it an increased risk for cancer of the mouth, neck, lungs, and stomach. In young men, marijuana use has been linked to a type of testicular cancer. Alcohol, steroids, and other performance enhancers have also been shown to cause increased cancer risks.

Drugs which are commonly smoked include:

  • Tobacco
  • “Crack” cocaine
  • Methamphetamine
  • Marijuana
  • Synthetic cannabinoids (fake weed)

Vaping, which is heating a substance and inhaling the vapors, is still being studied to establish whether it carries the same risks as smoking tobacco, marijuana, or other substances. There may be an additional cancer risk connected to vaping that results from inhaling the super-heated fillers or added ingredients in a vaping solution.

Heart and Cardiovascular Diseases

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Most drugs and alcohol hurt the heart and blood vessels, causing changes to the heart rate and blood pressure. Injecting drugs can cause blood infections, heart valve infections, and collapsed veins. These negative effects can cause strokes, high blood pressure, heart attacks, heart failure, and other cardiovascular conditions.

Substances with a particularly negative impact on heart health include:

  • Cocaine, methamphetamine, prescription stimulants
  • Tobacco, nicotine, marijuana, alcohol
  • Steroids, MDMA, GHB, DMT, ketamine
  • Heroin, inhalants, khat
  • LSD, mescaline, PCP

Respiratory Diseases and Breathing Issues

Many drugs can harm the respiratory system as well. Smoking tobacco or other drugs can cause or worsen a variety of respiratory or breathing problems, including chronic bronchitis, asthma, and COPD. Heroin and opioids can slow breathing to dangerous levels or cause airway blockages. Inhalants introduce dangerous chemicals into the lungs, throat, and mouth.

Chronic respiratory disease drastically reduces the quality of life for these individuals, making it difficult to move, sleep, breathe, or engage in physical activity. Seeking treatment and breaking free of these substances now offers the best chance for healing and full recovery.

Kidney and Liver Damage

Due to side effects including dehydration, increased body temperature, and muscle degradation, drugs and alcohol can cause damage to the kidneys. Alcohol, steroids, and prescription drugs can cause liver disease or damage, which can be life-threatening.

These internal organs are essential to removing toxins from the body, and using drugs or alcohol puts excessive stress on their cells and structures. Protecting these vital organs starts with ending the substance use and having access to supportive health services and medications.

Neurological and Mental Health Problems

Addictive drugs, including alcohol, are psychoactive, meaning that they affect the brain and mental functioning. While one may not necessarily cause the other, mental illness is more likely to occur for those who have a substance use disorder. In both the short and long term, substance use is linked to issues like these:

  • Anxiety, depression, hallucinations
  • Paranoia, aggression, apathy, social isolation
  • Seizures, stroke, motor control issues
  • Problems with learning, memory, impulse control, and pleasure/reward systems

These conditions make aspects of life all the more difficult for these individuals to find joy in life, and they effectively lose the ability to find pleasure in food, romance, hobbies, or relationships. Studies show that addiction and other mental illnesses often occur together and should be treated simultaneously for the best outcome.

Other Potential Health Dangers Associated with Alcohol and Drug Use

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Many other health problems occur because of, or in combination with, substance use disorders. Any of these might be a sign that it is time to enter a supervised treatment program when drugs or alcohol are involved:

  • Gastrointestinal issues, including nausea, vomiting, acid reflux, severe constipation, or bowel disease
  • Degenerating effects on the bones and muscles, including severe cramping or muscle weakness
  • Hormonal effects that can impact fertility and appearance, including body hair growth and male-pattern baldness in women
  • Prenatal impacts of drug use, including premature or low birth weight, abstinence syndrome, and cognitive issues for the baby
  • Sexually transmitted diseases and unplanned pregnancy
  • Malnutrition and a general decline in self-care
  • Domestic violence, child abuse, crimes, vehicle accidents, or thoughts of suicide

True Recovery Is Whole Body Healing

The health of each person depends on unique factors, from genetics to environment and lifestyle.

Mental or physical illness plays a role, as do past trauma and excessive stress. Identifying your challenges and engaging in a comprehensive treatment program will allow you or a loved one to unravel these intertwined symptoms and treat each with focused therapy.

Every recovery journey belongs to the individual, but people benefit from experienced support and guidance. At the Dedicato Treatment Center in Sierra Madre, California, our team of addiction experts can provide the whole-body healing experience that allows you to transcend substance use. We offer inpatient rehab in the Los Angeles area, sub-acute detox programs, residential treatment, and outpatient services, and we are JCAHO accredited.

More than one in four deaths in our country result from illicit drug use, and more disabilities and illnesses are caused by substance use disorders than any other preventable disease. These statistics make clear how important it is to treat the root cause of these co-occurring medical conditions and to reverse the debilitating effects of substance use on our bodies and minds. Contact Dedicato today to start your journey to dedicated treatment and healing.