The cost of substance use in Canada is $49.1 billion. $22.4 billion of these costs can be attributed to lost productivity in the workplace, while $13.4 billion goes towards addiction-related hospitalizations, emergency visits, and prescriptions. Not included in this alarming number is the price of addiction for individuals and families touched by this chronic disease. By price, we mean the financial burden but also the toll addiction takes on people’s lives. How can drugs affect your life beyond the obvious? This guide will explore the physical, emotional, and behavioural consequences of substance use disorders to help you better understand the devastating effects of addiction.
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How Can Drugs Affect Your Life?
Drugs can affect your life via health issues affecting your body, brain, and behaviour. Sadly, addiction can also result in death, impacting the person with an addiction as well as their loved ones.
The exact health effects of addiction depend on many factors, such as the drug of abuse, how the drug is administered, and how often someone uses the drug.
Additionally, individual genetics, pre-existing mental or physical health conditions, and social support systems may mitigate or exacerbate the effects of drug addiction.
Effects of Drug Addiction on Physical Health
Four common categories of drugs are stimulants, depressants, inhalants, and hallucinogens. Each has a different effect on the body in the short and long term.
The reason that drugs affect physical health in the first place has to do with their impact on the brain. Drug abuse and addiction alter a brain area called the basal ganglia, which is responsible for motor control, among other things.
Changes made to the basal ganglia and other brain areas have downstream effects, helping to explain their impact on physical health. Learn more about these effects next.
Short-Term Effects of Drug Addiction on Physical Health
The one short-term effect all drugs share in common is intoxication. How that intoxication manifests depends on the drug. Some examples of the intoxicating effects drugs can have include:
- Coordination issues
- Increased or decreased blood pressure
- Increased or decreased heart rate
- Changes in energy
- Gastrointestinal (GI) issues like nausea or vomiting
- Changes in internal body temperature
- Dilated or contracted pupils
- Changes in speech
- Dry mouth
Some of the most dangerous short-term effects drugs can have on physical health are seizures, coma, stroke, and heart attack. These symptoms are common signs of overdose, which may, sadly, result in death.
Long-Term Effects of Drug Addiction on Physical Health
Long-term drug use is correlated with chronic health conditions like lung disease, heart disease, stroke, and cancer. Using drugs can also increase the risk of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV and hepatitis C.
The liver and kidneys are sensitive to drug use. These organs are responsible for breaking down and eliminating toxins from the body. Drug use can make them work overtime or even cause direct injuries.
Here are some other potential long-term effects drugs can have on physical health:
- Immune system issues
- Gum disease and tooth decay
- Skin sores
- Nasal damage and loss of sense of smell
- Weight changes
- Collapsed veins
- Heart infections
- Chronic GI issues
Physical dependence is also a long-term consequence of drug use. The most common sign of physical dependence is the presence of withdrawal symptoms after the cessation of use of or cutting back on the drug.
Effects of Drug Addiction on Emotional and Mental Health
55% of people with a substance use disorder also have a co-occurring mental health issue. The reverse is also true. 60% of people diagnosed with a mental health condition also meet the criteria for addiction.
Some people start using drugs to cope with untreated mental health symptoms. Unfortunately, drugs may make these symptoms worse or cause new ones in people without pre-existing mental illnesses.
As with physical health effects, drugs impact emotional health due to changes they make to the amygdala. Next, learn more about the short- and long-term consequences of these brain changes on mental and emotional health.
Short-Term Effects of Drugs on Emotional Health
The intoxicating effects of drugs begin in the brain. Drugs interact with various brain areas, as well as the dopamine reward centre. Activation of dopamine reward networks reinforces the use of drugs, leading to psychological addiction.
Signs that someone may be intoxicated differ depending on the substance and how much is used. Among the more common short-term mental and emotional symptoms of drug use include:
- Euphoria (i.e., a ‘high’)
- Reduced or increased anxiety
- Changes in inhibitions
- Feeling wound up or extremely relaxed
- Changes in wakefulness
- Improved or poor concentration
- Altered pain perception
- Memory problems
Some withdrawal symptoms are also psychological in nature. For example, people may experience irritability, anxiety, and restlessness upon quitting or cutting back on their drug of choice.
Long-Term Effects of Drugs on Emotional Health
Individuals can use drugs without experiencing significant long-term mental effects. The younger someone is and the longer they use drugs, the more detrimental the impact on emotional and mental health.
Some of the most common mental health disorders that co-occur with long-term drug use include:
- Anxiety disorders
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Depressive disorders
- Bipolar disorder
- Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- Borderline personality disorder (BPD)
- Antisocial personality disorder (ASPD)
- Psychotic disorders, including schizophrenia
People with severe mental health conditions are even more likely to use drugs. 25% of these individuals have an addiction diagnosis.
Effects of Drug Addiction on Behavioural Health
Behavioural health encompasses mental health and substance use disorders. It can also refer to how someone responds to and deals with stressful life events. Behavioural health can also be thought of as well-being.
Changing behaviour is one of the easiest ways to identify addiction. Many of the criteria for diagnosing substance use disorders are behavioural. Learn more about these behavioural health impacts below.
Short-Term Effects of Drugs on Behavioural Health
There is a common myth that drugs kill brain cells. While this may be possible in the long term, drugs are more likely to change the way the brain functions. These brain changes can lead to behavioural changes like:
- Changes in personality
- Shifting friend groups
- Giving up on previously enjoyed activities
- Neglecting personal hygiene
- Changes in appetite
- Talking very fast or slurring words
- Experiencing mood swings
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Missing school or work
- Being unable to keep up with home or life obligations
Many of these symptoms indicate a substance use disorder. Getting help for drug abuse can reverse these changes, but it’s important to seek treatment as soon as possible to ensure they do not become permanent.
Long-Term Effects of Drugs on Behavioural Health
In the long term, drug addiction can change nearly all aspects of how someone behaves. These changes are due to the way the brain responds to drug use, the pre-frontal cortex in particular.
The pre-frontal cortex is one of the last brain areas to mature. It is responsible for thinking, making plans, problem-solving, decision-making, impulse control, and aspects of personality.
When drugs hijack the brain, someone may start behaving in ways they never have before. People who have never committed a crime in their lives may wind up with criminal charges or, worse, in prison.
The most unfortunate long-term effect of drugs is death. Overdose, car accidents, and other drug-related causes lead to 67,000 Canadian deaths each year.
Effects of Drug Use and Drug Addiction on Unborn Babies
People who are pregnant or breastfeeding should never use drugs. Anything ingested can pass through the placenta or breast milk. When the baby can no longer access the drug, they may experience neonatal abstinence syndrome.
Neonatal abstinence syndrome features the same painful withdrawal symptoms as normal addiction. The baby may have tremors, difficulty sleeping, and trouble eating. In worst-case scenarios, infants may experience seizures.
These are not the only potential consequences. Drug use is connected to premature birth, low birth weight, small head circumference, sudden infant death syndrome, and congenital disabilities. Stillbirths are also 1.8 to 2.8 times more likely with tobacco, marijuana, stimulant, and prescription pain reliever use.
So far, experts are not sure if drug use during pregnancy or breastfeeding has long-term effects. Animal studies have found a higher risk of long-term language deficits and behavioural issues. We need more research to understand the link.
Pregnant or breastfeeding mothers should also be careful when quitting drugs. Withdrawal symptoms may also have negative effects on the unborn baby. Mothers should consult with a doctor to develop the safest plan of action.
This Is the Impact of Drug Addiction on Emotional and Physical Spheres
So, how can drugs affect your life? Drug use and addiction are detrimental to short- and long-term physical, emotional, and behavioural health. Additionally, people who are pregnant or breastfeeding may potentially harm the unborn baby if they use drugs.
If you or a loved one are struggling to overcome addiction in Ontario, Simcoe Addiction and Mental Health is here for you. We are a private rehab centre with the compassionate and effective care you have been searching for.
Contact Simcoe to learn more about our holistic treatment services and finally stop worrying about the impact of addiction on your health.