DiRomaTherapy: Long-term Effects of Substance Abuse
We all know (or have been told) that drugs are bad. They can lead to addiction, illness, overdose, and can have a devastating impact on relationships with family members and friends. Unfortunately, many people dismiss the potential consequences of substance abuse. The common thought is that “it won’t happen to me”, but there is no way to tell who will be most susceptible to the negative effects of drug or even alcohol abuse.
Some of us may be familiar with the short-term effects of substance use, but few are aware of the damaging, long-term effects. Drug addiction may cause health problems like liver damage and heart disease as well as mental illnesses like depression and anxiety disorders. Drug use can also make severe impacts on the brain that make quitting difficult.
If you or a loved one is showing early signs of drug or substance addiction, it’s important to educate yourself on what to expect down the line especially if the addiction develops. All drugs have potential long-term effects, and they will vary depending on the substance. Even alcohol has many long-term drawbacks that few consider.
Substance abuse is a difficult disease to overcome because it changes the structure and function of the brain. Usually targeting the reward system, drugs produce a sensation of pleasure by causing dopamine to be released in large quantities. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, known as the “feel-good” hormone. This positive sensation works in a way that makes people inclined to use the drug again and again. “Just one more time”, our brains will tell us.
Every time you use drugs, they interfere with the way your brain works. Each class of drug has its own unique effect on the brain, but all of them have the possibility to impose lasting changes, even in infrequent users. These changes can be minor and can also be as detrimental as impacting the way a person thinks, learns, and behaves.
What Are the Most Common Types of Drugs?
Five of the most prominent drug classifications are narcotics, depressants, stimulants, hallucinogens, and anabolic steroids. Narcotics refers to substances with numbing or paralyzing properties. Examples are opiates and opioids (morphine, heroin). These types of drugs can cause adverse, long-term effects in several organ systems and opioid-induced hyperalgesia (OIH), increased sensitivity to pain caused by chemical changes to the brain.
Depressants are drugs that are used to treat issues such as insomnia, anxiety, pain, and stress. This time of drug commonly slows down brain functioning and neural activity. Although this type of drug may be useful for some medical conditions, long-term use can result in depressant addiction. Therefore, it’s important to maintain open communication with the physician who prescribed it to you. Long-term effects of depressants, including some prescriptions, include headaches and forgetfulness. Alcohol also falls under the category of a depressant, and over time can alter an individual’s mood, behavior, and neuropsychological functioning.
Stimulants are a very commonly prescribed drug, making many think of Adderall or Vyvanse in this category. Examples of non-prescription drugs in this class are cocaine, methamphetamine, and nicotine. Stimulants raise alertness and energy levels, but they also raise blood pressure and heart rate. Some of the most concerning long-term effects of stimulants are related to the cardiovascular system, like increasing your risk of developing heart disease. Regarding the drug type’s impact on the neurological system, stimulants cause changes to the structure and function of the brain that make it difficult to function without the drug.
Hallucinogens refer to the psychedelic type of drug. This class includes LSD, cannabis, ecstasy, and PCP. Over time, the use of hallucinogens can lead to a range of physical and mental health conditions. In particular, users may notice changes in perception, mood, and cognition.
Anabolic steroids stimulate muscle tissue to grow, which is why it is commonly abused in the sports industry. This class of drug greatly impacts the brain, especially in the amygdala which is the part of the brain related to emotion regulation, aggression, and anxiety. Other long-term effects include kidney problems, liver damage, tumors, enlargement of your heart, and an increased risk of stroke, heart attacks, and blood clots.
Drug abuse affects the body and overall health, causing potentially lasting issues that may be permanent. While recovering from drug addiction is challenging, there is hope for those struggling with the disease. The sooner a person gets the help that they need to stop their substance abuse, the better their chances are of being able to minimize the potential health problems.
What Substance is Abused the Most?
Despite increasing rates of illicit and prescription drug use in adults, alcohol, a depressant, remains the most abused substance. Regarding all age groups, the most abused substance is nicotine, a stimulant.
Too much alcohol is harmful, but some can be beneficial. So how does one decide how much is okay? Moderation is important, and it takes a lot of self-awareness to be able to gauge one’s own limits.
People who absolutely must avoid alcohol altogether are women who are pregnant and those using prescription or over-the-counter medications that cause drowsiness. If you don’t know whether you can drink while on a certain medication, consult your doctor first.
Nicotine addiction is one of the more difficult substances to break free from. Addiction was once thought of as bad behavior, but we understand it now to be a neurological disorder that occurs from the chemical changes a drug makes in the brain. Mark Twain articulated the reality of nicotine addiction when he said “giving up smoking is the easiest thing in the world. I know, because I’ve done it a thousand times”.
Twain is referring to the loop of quitting and then facing withdrawal, relapsing, and then repeating the cycle. The powerful change that the drug has on the brain can make permanently quitting difficult, so it’s important to not be too hard on yourself if a trigger causes a relapse at some point. Just make sure that you learn from the trigger, work to develop better coping mechanisms, and solidify your support group whether it’s friends or family members.
If you or someone you know may be suffering from an addiction, please visit us online or call our office at (203)667-7526 to schedule a consultation or to get more information on the forms or therapy and substance abuse help that we offer. We will ensure you have the best guidance moving forward and the best resources to enable you or your loved one to overcome their addiction.