Not everyone gets addicted – but those that do typically have few ways of knowing what their chances are. Addiction is not just a matter of going down a slippery slope of a few too many drinks after a particularly bad breakup – some addictions are genetically or environmentally-predisposed, and there are cases where people recreationally take drugs for months and simply stop out of their own volition, and eventually the effects of addiction will catch up to them.
Every addiction develops uniquely – some people struggle because their brain develops an addiction much more rapidly, while other people have a tough time feeling the effects of a drug the way others do. The factors affecting addiction are numerous – socioeconomic status, genetics and social/environmental richness all have evidence of influencing a person’s addiction in one way or another.
Addiction is not just a matter of responsibility or choice – that is far too simple. It’s a combination of environmental factors and individual factors. Your attitude towards life, your upbringing, your mental state, your genes, your lifestyle, your emotions and behaviors at the time of usage – all these things, when combined with the quality and quantity of the specific drugs used, the stimuli involved when using, and the possible reasons for your drug use affect the way the brain reacts.
But one thing is for sure – if you’re trapped in the vicious cycle of addiction for months or even years, then you’re sure to leave a lasting impression on your brain and your body. But to understand the long-term effects of staying addicted, we must understand the short-term first.
Effects Of Addiction The Brain
Any psychoactive drug does a similar thing – it enters the bloodstream, reaches the brain, and affects the way your brain cells communicate with one another, effectively changing the way your body functions, affecting your mood and behavior, and even changing what you see temporarily.
The effects of addiction to a drug depends on the amount that was taken, and the method in which it was taken. The effects of addiction to different drugs can be different based on type as well. Hallucinogens such as psilocybin mushrooms send the chemical psilocin through the bloodstream and the blood-brain barrier into the brain itself, where its chemical structure replaces serotonin and attaches to its receptors, causing a “trip”.
Heroin, on the other hand, stimulates the release of different neurotransmitters related to pleasure, greatly dulling pain and producing a general feeling of euphoria. Other drugs have different effects of addiction; for example, alcohol is a depressant and blocks certain functions of the brain, inhibiting perception, hearing, vision and movement. Amphetamines and methamphetamine invoke the body’s fight or flight response, and induce pleasure. Nicotine greatly reduces stress through dopamine, but is highly addictive.
Drugs are typically ingested orally (the slowest possible method), through the lungs, or injected straight into the veins. Whatever method is used, the drug eventually makes it into the brain.
In the short-term, these drugs all have their individual effects, all of which relate to the way your brain perceives pleasure, and all of which deeply link to the reward system our brain uses to help us learn and develop habits for survival. In the short-term, it’s easy to see how we can develop a taste for these substances – the stimulating effects of addiction to cocaine and methamphetamine can seem amazing for boosting performance and suppressing appetite, while opiates can help block out most forms of acute pain. However, in the long-term, their effects of addiction are disastrous.
How Your Brain Reacts To Long-Term Drug Use
Sooner or later, constant drug use leads to the development of an addiction. However, aside from the effects of addiction itself, most addictive drugs cause long-term damage to the brain, specifically affecting your ability to recall and remember, diminishing cognitive capabilities such as decision-making and problem solving, affecting critical thinking skills, and cutting into your reaction times and reflexes.
In short, long-term drug uses slowly but surely deteriorates your ability to think and react normally. Research shows that some drugs have a more deleterious effect than others, with certain drugs like cocaine and meth leaving very long-lasting impressions of brain damage. Diminished decision-making through drug use also leads to increasingly risky behavior, causing some people to ignore any long-term or short-term consequences when seeking a high, even going so far as to commit crimes to get the next fix.
Aside from these signs of brain damage, long-term drug use is also highly associated with mental illness, typically due to the negative emotional consequences and mood changes that become a part and parcel of daily or regular drug use. Depression, anxiety and paranoia can all develop as part of an addiction, further feeding the emotional need to use and diminishing the effectiveness of certain approaches to treatment without a more comprehensive therapy plan.
Drugs And The Body
The effects of addiction may primarily affect the brain, but its effects on the nervous system are also coupled with havoc wreaked throughout the body. Different substances have different consequences.
Stimulants such as methamphetamine and cocaine greatly increase your heart rate and stress the heart muscle, leading to an elevated risk of cardiovascular failure, strokes (due to brain damage) and, in a related fashion, respiratory issues. Crack cocaine, crystal meth and long-term cigarette use all cause major damage to the lungs, including an increased risk of lung cancer.
The liver is at risk of failing not just through copious amounts of alcohol, but through opioid misuse as well. Painkillers and booze alike can cause a pickled liver and shut down the most significant toxin filter in your body. Your kidneys are at risk when stimulates and opioids are used, and alcoholism coupled with constant dehydration can also put extreme stress on the human kidney.
Cocaine and meth decrease appetite and lead to extreme weight loss, and suppress your body’s ability to fend off diseases and fight infections, leading to sores, open wounds that have trouble healing, and an increased risk of injection-transmitted diseases such as hepatitis C and HIV/AIDS.
Drug addiction has terrible consequences, both mentally and physically. Anyone struggling with getting off drugs for months and years knows how hard it can be – and that no one chooses to enslave themselves to drugs.
However, treatment is not impossible. There exist many options nowadays for individuals looking to get better, from sober housing and communities to different forms of therapy, rehab, and more.