The Effects of Drug Abuse & Addiction
Drug abuse can result in short- and long-term negative consequences ranging from issues such as disrupted sleep patterns to loss of employment and problems with relationships.1, 2 Problematic substance use can also increase a person’s risk for developing long-term medical issues such as heart disease, cancer, as well as certain co-occurring mental health conditions.1
Which specific type of drug or drugs, how much and how they are used, and an individual’s health are some factors that can contribute to the potential range of adverse effects a person may experience.3 While some consequences result directly from drug abuse and addiction, others may occur indirectly in relation to drug use.
Learn more about the effects of drug abuse and how a substance use disorder (SUD) may negatively impact your life below.
Health Effects of Drug Abuse
Though the associated, substance-related effects may vary from one drug to the next, general short-term health consequences of drug use can include issues such as:3
- Changes in appetite.
- Disturbances in sleep patterns.
- Cardiovascular issues including stroke and heart attack.
- Overdose toxicity or death.
Long term use of some drugs may also increase the likelihood of certain cancers; developing heart, liver, and kidney disease; as well as experiencing neurological issues such as seizures.4, 5 Injecting drugs such as cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine is also associated with an increased risk of contracting hepatitis, HIV/AIDS, and other infections.6,7 Drug use may also negatively impact cognitive functioning, resulting in impaired responses, planning, decision-making, and memory.8
Drug use can alter the activity of several brain chemicals—or neurotransmitters—including dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure, reward, and satisfaction, and several different drugs have been found to influence dopamine pathways in the brain.9
Though the neurochemical details are complicated, consistently elevated dopamine activity as a result of substance use can strongly reinforce drug seeking behavior and compulsive drug use. Additionally, as someone’s brain and body adjusts to frequently being high, they may experience relatively diminished reward from otherwise normally reinforcing activities like sex or eating food.9
Substance abuse and mental illness commonly coincide, with research showing that about half of those who experience a mental illness during their lives will also experience a substance use disorder and vice versa.10 Commonly co-occurring mental health disorders include depression, anxiety, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder, and antisocial personality disorder.10
Impact of Substance Abuse on Relationships
Drug abuse can affect more than just the person getting high, it can also be detrimental to their relationships with friends, family members, and coworkers.11 Often, couples in which one or both partners abuse drugs are less happy than couples who don’t.11 Using drugs seems to cause significant conflict between intimate partners; these couples tend to fight more often than couples in which both partners don’t use drugs.11 Unfortunately, substance abuse can sometimes lead to violence in intimate relationships as well. 11
Financial Burdens of Drug Addictions
The use of illicit drugs can not only affect an individual’s health and relationships but can cause issues for individuals financially—both in their personal and professional lives. It has been estimated that substance abuse—including alcohol, prescription opioids, illicit drugs, and tobacco—has cost the nation more than $740 billion annually in lost work productivity, health care costs and crime.13
Research has shown that drug use is related to a number of problematic work behaviors such as decreased performance levels and increased accident rates.14 Additionally, those using illicit drugs may be prone to absenteeism at work, abuse of work benefits, and low workplace rule abidance.14 These issues, in turn, could result in the loss of employment and difficultobtaining new work in the future.
When it comes to the cost of drugs, paying for them can also begin to be a burden on an individual’s income, especially as increasing amounts of the drugs may become necessary to overcome a growing tolerance to their effects. Since drug use can also result in serious health problems, those struggling with addiction may be faced with increased medical fees and/or insurance premiums.
Drug use can also lead to costs associated with criminal activities such as DUI charges, bail, attorneys, court-mandated classes, court fines, and public transportation due to the loss of a vehicle or license.
Dangers of Overdosing
Regardless of how often a person uses certain types of substances—such as cocaine, sedatives, heroin, or other opioids—there is always some risk of overdose, especially when these drugs are mixed with other drugs and/or alcohol. In 2018, more than 65,000 Americans died as a result of overdoses, including those that involved illicit drugs and prescription opioid medications.15
Overdoses can occur when a drug is used to excess, resulting in toxicity or injury and, in some cases, death.16 Various factors can play into whether someone overdoses on a drug, such as a person’s body weight, gender, tolerance, the potency of the drug, and the other drugs that may have been taken with it.17
The signs and symptoms of overdoses can vary based on the drug. Some signs include:17
- Pale and/or clammy face.
- Changes in pulse rate and blood pressure.
- Shallow, erratic breathing.
- Loss of consciousness.
- Severe stomach pain.
If you believe someone is experiencing an overdose, call 9-1-1 immediately and wait for medical assistance.
Getting Help For Drug Addiction
Drug abuse and addiction can greatly impact your life, resulting in negative consequences to every part of your life. If you feel you’re ready to make a change and quit using drugs and/or alcohol, American Addiction Centers (AAC) is here to help.
AAC operates AlcoholRehab.com and is a nationwide provider of addiction treatment facilities. Our admissions navigators are available 24/7 to speak with you about your options for treatment today. It’s never too late to get clean and take back control of your life, relationships and finances.
All calls are 100% confidential and there’s no pressure to make any decisions right away. We’re here for you and will walk with you every step of the way as you embark on your journey to recovery.
. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020). Health Consequences of Drug Misuse.
. Better Health: State of Victoria. (2020). How Drugs Affect Your Body.
. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020). Health Consequences of Drug Misuse: Introduction.
. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020). Health Consequences of Drug Misuse: Cancer.
. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020). Health Consequences of Drug Misuse: Cardiovascular Effects.
. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Why does heroin use create special risk for contracting HIV/AIDS and hepatitis B and C?
. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Why are cocaine users at risk for contracting HIV/AIDS and hepatitis?
. American Psychological Association. (2001). Cognition is central to drug addiction.
. Justinova, Z., Panlilio, L. V., & Goldberg, S. R. (2009). Drug addiction. Current topics in behavioral neurosciences, 1, 309–346.
. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020). The Connection Between Substance Use Disorders and Mental Illness.
. American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. (2020). Substance Abuse and Intimate Relationships.
. American Psychological Association. (2017). Understanding People With Substance Use Disorders and Addiction.
. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020). Costs of Substance Abuse.
. National Research Council (US) and Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Drug Use in the Workplace. (1994). Impact of Alcohol and Other Drug Use: Observational/Field Studies. Under the Influence? Drugs and the American Work Force.
. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020). Overdose Death Rates.
. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). Commonly Used Terms.
. Alcohol and Drug Foundation. (2017). Overdose.