The Physical Effects of Long-Term Substance Abuse

Apr 13, 2015
Tagged with: The Physical Effects of Long-Term Substance Abuse


Substance abuse and addiction are serious conditions with a variety of harmful effects on health and wellness. From complications relating to mental health, to physical risks and damages, long-term drug use can have drastic effects on overall well-being.

Keep reading to find out more about substance abuse, and the risks it can pose to physical and psychological health,

Your Brain on Drugs

The brain is a complex organ responsible for the whole of human activity; therefore, any substance we introduce to the body is likely to have an effect on the brain and its functions. When it comes to drug and alcohol use, the effects on the brain are varied. For example, drugs and alcohol target reward centers in the brain, causing an influx of the chemical, dopamine, which is responsible for regulating emotion, pleasure, motivation and movement.

In normal levels, dopamine keeps us at an even keel; however, in surplus, dopamine can bring on the feelings of euphoria associated with addictive substances. These euphoric effects lead to repeated use of drugs or alcohol, which can ultimately result in both physical and psychological dependence. When this happens, the body stop producing normal amounts of dopamine, and larger quantities of drugs are needed for the user to feel “normal.”

In addition to enhanced production of dopamine, drug use can have other effects on the brain as well. For example, in long-term users, complications like problems with judgment and decision making, memory loss and poor impulse control are extremely common. Plus, prolonged use of addictive substances has been linked to an increased risk for psychological illnesses like depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder.

Your Body on Drugs

Depending on the substance in question, drug abuse can have serious effects on the body and organ function. For example, long-term substance abuse is associated with physical complications like the following:

  • Damage to the liver and kidneys. Acting as filters for the body, the liver and kidneys are especially at risk in individuals who abuse drugs or alcohol. Since these organs have to work harder to filter waste from the body, damage as a result of substance abuse is highly likely.
  • Diseases of the digestive system. Many drugs affect digestive function. For example, opioid drugs like heroin and prescription painkillers are associated with constipation, while alcohol can irritate the digestive tract. Over time, these effects can contribute to a variety of digestive diseases, including certain types of cancer.
  • Heart disease. Individuals who use drugs or drink in excess are at a heightened risk for developing heart disease. Certain drugs, like cocaine and methamphetamine, are especially harmful, as they put enormous stress on the cardiovascular system.

Treating the Effects of Substance Abuse

With effective addiction treatment and an attention to physical health, some of the damage caused by substance abuse can improve. For example, with the right medications and healthy lifestyle choices, both health and quality of life can be significantly enhanced. However, it’s important to note that, even with medical treatment, some of the damage caused by substance abuse can be permanent. Damage to the brain, especially, can be difficult to treat, and may require more intensive therapies and techniques.


Addiction is a complex disease with wide-reaching complications and effects. If you or someone you love is struggling from the effects of substance abuse, seeking immediate treatment can significantly reduce the risks associated with addiction, while enhancing overall health and quality of life.



Author: Ruby Andrew

  • bobl07

    Thank you for this information which effects so many people.

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