Drug use and misuse can affect your mind and body in a wide range of ways — some of them serious. If you want to change your relationship with a substance, help is available right now.
Drug misuse is a common concern. Most people are very familiar with some of the ways drugs and alcohol can affect health factors, such as a person’s mood, memory, heart rate, and liver function.
According to the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, about 1 in 10 U.S. adults have dealt with drug misuse at some point in their lives. That’s over 27 million people facing the health risks of substance use disorders, or addiction.
However, there’s good news from that same study: Although some people may never stop misusing drugs, 75% of those 27 million adults are now in recovery.
This article discusses some of the common effects that come from long-term drug use and misuse, as well as how to get help for yourself or a loved one looking to change their relationship to substance use.
Drug misuse can affect your brain and mental health. It alters the way the chemicals in your brain are produced and released.
For example, when you use cocaine, your brain releases abnormal amounts of dopamine. This creates the high associated with cocaine.
Although dopamine is a naturally occurring brain chemical, it’s not possible to naturally release dopamine at the levels cocaine allows. This creates cravings and can lead to dependence. Other drugs work similarly.
Misuse of these drugs leads to substance use disorder, which can be classified as mild, moderate, or severe. Misuse can also lead to a range of mental health effects, such as:
- Anxiety: Elevated levels of brain chemicals can lead to elevated anxiety for some people.
- Brain fog: Drug misuse and its effects on brain chemicals can impair thinking ability and mental clarity.
- Memory problems: Drug misuse can make forming new memories difficult. You might also have trouble recalling past events.
- Depression: Much like anxiety, depression can develop from the altered brain chemicals in your brain.
- Mood changes: Cravings and shifts in levels of brain chemicals can cause mood changes.
- Personality changes: People often report changes in how they feel and act while they’re high or drunk, but long-term drug misuse and addiction can sometimes cause more lasting personality changes. Cravings, shifting brain chemical levels, symptoms of anxiety and depression, and other mental changes can affect how you act on a daily basis.
There are a range of physical effects associated with drug misuse. These effects can vary depending on the person, their overall health, the drug, how often the drug is taken, and how long the misuse continues.
However, untreated substance use disorders are serious. Their health effects can spread throughout the body and can even be fatal.
Potential effects of drug misuse on the body include:
- involuntary weight loss
- blood vessel infections
- collapsed veins
- heart attack
- liver damage
- liver disease
- lung damage
- increased risk of infection
- hormonal imbalances
Drug misuse has additional physical risks. People who misuse drugs have an increased risk of both motor vehicle accidents and sexually transmitted infections from sex without a condom or other barrier method.
Although these are not direct physical side effects of the drugs, it’s important to be aware of these risks.
Drugs and alcohol have additional risks during pregnancy. Drugs and alcohol pass to unborn babies through the bloodstream. Children can be born with a dependence to these substances and experience withdrawal after birth. This is called neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS).
Additionally, children exposed to drugs and alcohol during pregnancy can have:
- lower birth weights
- developmental delays
- difficulty sleeping
- other health problems
These effects can last throughout a child’s life and sometimes cause premature death.
No matter when you’re reading this, there are many people just like you across the world starting their recovery journey too.
There are a variety of programs and treatment options that can give you the tools you need to get sober. The first step on the road to recovery is a big one, but you don’t have to make it alone. When you’re ready, support will be available.
Getting help for drug use or misuse
You can find help and support to recover from drug use and misuse. Starting the process can feel overwhelming, but there are places you can turn.
A great first step is reaching out to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). You can call their free and confidential helpline 24 hours a day, 7 days a week:
- You can reach SAMSHA by calling 800-662-HELP (4357).
- You can also use their online treatment locator to find programs in your area.
The helpline is available in English and Spanish. Helpline team members can connect you with support services in your area that will meet your needs. It’s a good place to start if you’re not sure where to turn.
Don’t be afraid to reach out to your family, friends, a therapist, or other members of your support system when you need to. While substance use or misuse can carry a social stigma with it, it’s also extremely common. You may be surprised how well your loved ones understand what you’re going through.
Helping a loved one with drug use or misuse
It can be tough to see a loved one handle drug misuse. Talking with someone can be difficult, and many people worry that bringing up subjects like drug use and addiction will go badly or lead to a fight.
While you can’t predict how another person will react, you can take steps to build trust in a conversation.
It’s a good idea to:
- ensure the conversation is two-sided and doesn’t sound like a lecture
- have a conversation when both you and your loved one are completely sober
- have the conversation in a safe and comfortable location
- ask questions about what’s going on in your loved one’s life during the conversation
- consider asking your loved one’s significant other, parent, religious leader, or another person whose opinion they highly regard to speak to them
- consider consulting an addiction professional or setting up a formal intervention with other friends and family members
- gather brochures and information from local rehabilitation programs
- remain supportive and nonjudgmental
Remember that recovery is a long journey that can involve many aspects of mental health. People in recovery may find that cooking healthy meals, keeping up with chores, or maintaining self-care routines are sometimes difficult. Helping with day-to-day necessities can be incredibly valuable for your loved one.
Drug misuse has effects on your brain and body. It can alter your mood, personality, and thinking ability. Over time, it can also damage your organs and can even be fatal.
Overcoming drug misuse is a journey, but you don’t need to take it alone. Support is available in the form of treatment programs and therapies. There are a variety of options you can pursue to gain the tools you need to recover and stop drug misuse.