Effects of Drug Abuse and Addiction
Drugs are chemicals that affect the body and brain. Different drugs can have different effects. Some effects of drugs include health consequences that are long-lasting and even permanent. They can even continue after a person has stopped taking the substance.
There are a few ways a person can take drugs, including injection, inhalation and ingestion. The effects of the drug on the body can depend on the way in which the abused drug is delivered. For example, the injection of drugs directly into the bloodstream have an immediate impact, while ingestion has a delayed effect. But all drugs of abuse affect the brain. They cause large amounts of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate our emotions, motivation and feelings of pleasure, to flood the brain, causing a "high." Eventually, drugs can change how the brain works and interfere with a person's ability to make choices, leading to intense cravings and compulsive drug use. Over time, this behavior can turn into a substance dependency, or drug and alcohol addiction.
Today, more than 7 million people suffer from an illicit drug disorder, and one in four deaths results from illicit drug use. In fact, more deaths, illnesses and disabilities stem from effects of drug abuse than from any other preventable health condition. People suffering from drug and alcohol addiction also have a higher risk of unintentional injuries, accidents and domestic violence incidents.
The good news is, substance use disorders are treatable.
What Is Drug Abuse?
Clinically known as substance use disorder, drug abuse or addiction is caused by the habitual taking of addictive substances. Drugs of use include alcohol, marijuana, hallucinogens and opioids. The National Institute on Drug Addiction (NIDA) states, "Addiction is defined as a chronic relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences."
Know The Facts
- Illicit drug users make over 527,000 costly emergency room visits each year for drug related problems.
- One dollar out of every $14 of the nation's health care bill is spent to treat those suffering from smoking-related illnesses.
- Drug offenders account for more than one-third of the growth in the state prison population and more than 80 percent of the increase in the number of federal prison inmates since 1985.
- More than 75 percent of domestic violence victims report that their assailant had been drinking or using illicit drugs at the time of the incident.
- Substance abuse and addiction are fully treatable.
- 45% of individuals with an untreated substance use disorder commit suicide.*
More deaths, illnesses and disabilities stem from substance abuse than from any other preventable health condition. Today, one in four deaths is attributable to illicit drug use. People who live with substance dependence have a higher risk of all bad outcomes including unintentional injuries, accidents, risk of domestic violence, medical problems, and death.
The impact of drug abuse and dependence can be far-reaching, affecting almost every organ in the human body. Drug use can:
- Weaken the immune system, increasing susceptibility to infections.
- Cause cardiovascular conditions ranging from abnormal heart rate to heart attacks. Injected drugs can also lead to collapsed veins and infections of the blood vessels and heart valves.
- Cause nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain.
- Cause the liver to have to work harder, possibly causing significant damage or liver failure.
- Cause seizures, stroke and widespread brain damage that can impact all aspects of daily life by causing problems with memory, attention and decision-making, including sustained mental confusion and permanent brain damage.
- Produce global body changes such as breast development in men, dramatic fluctuations in appetite and increases in body temperature, which may impact a variety of health conditions.
Effects On The Brain
Although initial drug use may be voluntary, drugs have been shown to alter brain chemistry, which interferes with an individual's ability to make decisions and can lead to compulsive craving, seeking and use. This then becomes a substance dependency.
- All drugs of abuse - nicotine, cocaine, marijuana, and others - effect the brain's "reward" circuit, which is part of the limbic system.
- Drugs hijack this "reward" system, causing unusually large amounts of dopamine to flood the system.
- This flood of dopamine is what causes the "high" or euphoria associated with drug abuse.
- Impaired Judgment
- Loss of Self-Control
Nearly 4 percent of pregnant women in the United States use illicit drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, Ecstasy and other amphetamines, and heroin1. These and other illicit drugs may pose various risks for pregnant women and their babies. Some of these drugs can cause a baby to be born too small or too soon, or to have withdrawal symptoms, birth defects or learning and behavioral problems. Additionally, illicit drugs may be prepared with impurities that may be harmful to a pregnancy.
Finally, pregnant women who use illicit drugs may engage in other unhealthy behaviors that place their pregnancy at risk, such as having extremely poor nutrition or developing sexually transmitted infections.