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Long-Term Physical Effects of Addiction

Long-Term Physical Effects of Addiction

Addictions can happen after a single use, depending on factors such as the type of substance or genetics. Because addictions are chronic conditions, there are long-term physical effects of addiction that can be expected. While different addictive substances have different physical effects, addictions in general have overlapping effects. If you or someone you know is struggling with an addiction, knowing these long-term effects can help with treatment and management.

Physical Effects of Addiction: It’s Not All In The Mind

Long-term physical effects of addiction

Changes in weight

Addictions often cause weight loss. Stimulant drugs and nicotine can decrease appetite and increase metabolism. Less calories taken in through food coupled with more calories burned results in a large calorie deficit. In severe cases of addiction, money that should be used for essential goods like food and medications may be sacrificed to purchase drugs or other substances.

However, some addictive substances like alcohol and marijuana may cause weight gain due to an increase in calories taken in. In addition, some addictions can trigger eating disorders such as anorexia.

Stunted growth and recovery

In addition to changes in diet and weight are the long-term physical effects of addiction that involve the body’s development. The earlier one is exposed to drugs or alcohol, the more likely they are to become addicted.

The minds and bodies of children and teenagers are still developing, therefore early exposure to addictive substances can disrupt normal growth and maturation. Even in the womb, children born to mothers who are active substance users are more likely to be born prematurely or have birth defects.

While it is generally accepted that adults stop growing in height after a certain age, other parts of the body continue to grow and repair. Some addictive drugs can decrease bone and muscle mass, which can lead to osteoporosis and an increased risk of injury.

Decreased immunity

Due to the impact of addiction on dietary intake, weight loss and malnutrition are two of the long-term physical effects of addiction. Even without an addiction, malnutrition can have adverse health effects. Without vitamins and minerals, the immune system cells becomes weaker. Additionally, the cells of the body cannot repair themselves properly. This means that those with addictions are more likely to get sick and take longer to recover.

Additionally, the route of administration can affect health. Sharing needles is a common practice among injectable drug users. This increases the risk of transmitting viruses that cause diseases like AIDS and hepatitis.

Liver and kidney damage

The vast majority of drugs and substances are metabolized and excreted by the liver and kidneys. This applies to herbal, non-prescription, prescription, and illicit drugs.

When an addiction occurs, substance use is not for treating any illness but rather to feel pleasure or relief. On top of this, addictive substances are potent and taken in large doses. Overdosing or taking a medication longer than necessary can overwhelm the liver and kidneys, leading to damage and failure.

Cardiovascular disease

Addictive substances have an acute and chronic effect on the heart and blood vessels. Some drugs cause vasoconstriction or narrowing while others cause dilation or widening. This has an effect on blood pressure and heart rate. Sudden or frequent changes in blood pressure can result in headaches, fainting, capillary fragility, and stroke. These can also put a strain on the heart, leading to insufficiency and failure in the long run.

Withdrawal symptoms

Lastly, withdrawal symptoms are common between any type of addiction. Because the brain and body have become dependent on the substance, stopping can be extremely hard. Withdrawal symptoms include feelings of irritability, anger, and anxiety. Physically, these can manifest as shaking or jitters. Typically, withdrawal effects are at their worst during the first week of quitting but subside weeks to months later.

Key takeaways

In summary, there are several long-term physical effects of addiction. The longer an addiction lasts, the more damage it causes. If you or someone you know is struggling with an addiction, talk to a doctor or addiction support center for more information and assistance.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Consequences of smoking for body weight, body fat distribution, and insulin resistance https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/87/4/801/4633357 Accessed February 22, 2021 Long-Term Effects of Drug Addiction https://www.altamirarecovery.com/drug-addiction/long-term-effects-drug-addiction/ Accessed February 22, 2021 Physical and Psychological Effects of Substance Use https://ncsacw.samhsa.gov/files/TrainingPackage/MOD2/PhysicalandPsychEffectsSubstanceUse.pdf Accessed February 22, 2021 The Permanent Effects of Drugs on the Body https://americanaddictioncenters.org/health-complications-addiction/permanent-effects Accessed February 22, 2021 Health Effects of Teen Substance Abuse https://www.addictioncenter.com/teenage-drug-abuse/health-effects-teen-substance-abuse/ Accessed February 22, 2021 Marijuana and the developing brain https://www.apa.org/monitor/2015/11/marijuana-brain Accessed February 22, 2021
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Written by Stephanie Nicole Nera, RPh, PharmD Updated Feb 23