There’s absolutely no doubt in most people’s mind that addiction is a bad thing. Yet many cannot quantify why. Some say that getting hooked on drugs will rot your brain – but that’s only half the story, if that. Long term drug use will lead to the total deterioration of your physical and mental health, beginning with the brain and continuing throughout the body. If an overdose won’t kill you, then it’s likely that any one of several other possible diseases and organ failures will.
Worse yet, addiction doesn’t only affect one single individual. Some may defend their behavior and say that it’s their choice to stay addicted – but in doing so, they place others in harm’s way, often to the point of causing major and potentially fatal damage. Drug use is never a good idea – and by knowing exactly how it takes the body and mind apart, we can better educate ourselves and our children on why it isn’t worth the risk.
Drug Use and Physical Damage
Different drugs lead to different forms of disease, mostly because drugs are either toxic to begin with, or because the addiction leads to tolerance, which leads to greater and greater dosages.
Stimulants like amphetamine and cocaine typically lead to a greater risk of heart damage, heart disease, and strokes, while depressive drugs like alcohol and benzodiazepine, as well as opioids, can lead to respiratory arrest, oxygen deprivation, and memory loss. Inhaling methamphetamine or crack cocaine can cause dental damage, and gum damage. These drugs also attack the liver, because it works hard to process and metabolize the drugs. Alcohol can lead to a fatty liver and eventually cause liver cirrhosis, or liver scarring.
Nicotine, usually in the form of cigarettes, presents a great risk for lung cancer, because of the carcinogenic chemicals found in cigarettes and tobacco in general.
Drug Use and Mental Damage
It’s clear that addiction changes the way the brain works – but besides that, it also impairs the mind and affects the way people think. Addiction correlates with a higher likelihood of mental illness, not just because people with mental illness are more likely to use drugs to self-medicate, but because drug use can lead to depression and self-loathing, suicidal thought, and trigger other mood disorders, personality disorders, or possible mental health issues.
Besides mental health diagnoses, addiction also eats into the grey matter of the brain, reducing cognitive function and awareness, cutting into memory, and impairing an individual’s ability to consider risks, think into the future, and inhibit their actions. This can lead to more impulsive and destructive behavior, as well as less empathic and more selfish behavior. Occasionally, drug use can become so severe that it makes a person more violent. Methamphetamine is a particularly troubling drug for the mind, as it is neurotoxic and can affect the brain’s ability to process serotonin, an important neurotransmitter.
Health Impact on Others
While addiction takes its toll on individuals physically and mentally, it has quite the impact on those living around an addict, as well.
Risk of birth defects – the use of drugs, from nicotine to alcohol to opioids, can lead to major complications and health problems in pregnant women and their unborn children, causing a range of disease including fetal alcohol syndrome, neonatal abstinence syndrome (withdrawal in newborn babies), and more. Drugs can also make their way into a mother’s breastmilk, which is essential for a baby’s early immune function and general health. These substances can impair and harm the child’s development. Severe drug use may even lead to a premature labor, placental abruption, other birth defects, or miscarriage.
Spread of infectious diseases – sharing needles and engaging in risky sexual activity due to impaired thinking can lead to a slew of sexually-transmitted diseases and infectious diseases, due to unsanitary drug use. The US has seen a rise in STDs primarily correlating with the rise in opioid abuse. Most of these diseases are preventable by practicing safe sex with trusted partners and avoiding drugs. About 1 in 10 cases of HIV in the US is caused by drug injection, while drugs like prescription opioids and methamphetamine can greatly boost libido and decrease cognitive function (critical thinking).
Risk of automotive accidents – driving under the influence of drugs, particularly alcohol and other depressants, is extremely dangerous and often puts the driver and everyone else on the road in harm’s way. Automobile accidents caused by drinking claim about 29 lives every single day, in the US alone. This is a nationwide issue with no simple fix, but many who drive under the influence do so because they can’t stop drinking or taking drugs.
Risk of secondhand smoke – secondhand smoke puts children and adults alike at risk for lung cancer, even in individuals who have never smoked before. Secondhand smoke often contains dangerous and carcinogenic chemicals from the production of tobacco and the production of cigarettes. Secondhand smoke from high-THC marijuana can very rarely show up in a urine test, potentially putting the jobs and careers of those who don’t smoke at risk.
Drug use can end a person’s life – but it can also negatively impact and end the lives of others. As our nation is currently struggling with an opioid epidemic, it’s more important today than ever to educate one another on the negative effects of drug use – not to scare the kids into staying on the straight and narrow, but to teach them the value of their own life, and that the short-term pleasure associated with drug use will never be worth the physical and mental price you pay with addiction.
More than ever, now is the time to show compassion toward our loved ones as they struggle with getting clean and staying clean. Addiction treatment today is more effective than it has ever been, but it’s still a long and bumpy road for most.
Residential treatment, outpatient programs, sober living homes and addiction treatment resource centers exist all over the country, providing relief in the face of a problem that affects millions. By encouraging treatment, communities can work together to push back against a growing issue.