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The Long-Term Side Effects of Drug Abuse: Mental and Physical

February 14, 2023

Long-Term Mental and Physical Side Effects of Drug Abuse

Those abusing drugs and alcohol seldomly think about the long-term side effects of drug abuse. Unfortunately, ignoring the signs and allowing drug abuse to continue can have an adverse effect on your physical and mental health. By getting treatment now, it can be possible to prevent many of the health problems associated with drug abuse.

Drug Abuse Information

When a person abuses drugs for years, it can cause permanent changes to their body, brain, and mental state. Most drugs, for example, can damage key organs in the body such as the liver, kidneys, and heart, alter areas in the brain responsible for decision-making and memory, and exacerbate or even cause mental illness.

Important Drug Abuse Statistics in 2020

  • There have been 700,00 drug overdose deaths since the year 2000.
  • Over 19% of individuals in the US used illicit substances or abused their medication this past year.
  • More than 10% percent of people will eventually develop a substance use disorder.
  • Out of all those who need drug treatment, only 90% receive It.

Long-Term Side Effects of Drug Abuse


Liver and Kidneys – Prolonged use of alcohol can cause scarring, inflammation, hepatitis, and Liver failure. High blood pressure and liver damage can also lead to kidney damage.

Pancreas and Stomach – Alcohol abuse leads to swelling of the blood vessels around the pancreas, which along with high acidity levels can cause pancreatitis. Alcohol also inflames the lining of the stomach leading to ulcers, acid reflux, and gastrointestinal issues.

Heart – High blood pressure, heart failure, and stroke can all be caused by excessive drinking.

Brain – Damage to the areas responsible for the brain’s short and long-term memory, motor functions, and emotional processing and arousal can occur.

Depression and Anxiety – People use alcohol to mask depression or calm their nerves instead of actively getting help. Over time, the creation of a dependency can lead to higher levels of depression and anxiety if regular drinking levels aren’t maintained.

Cocaine and Other Stimulants

Weight Loss and Malnutrition – Mainly due to the appetite-suppressing effects of stimulants and the loss of interest in maintaining one’s physical health.

Damage to The Teeth and Gums – Abusing amphetamines can cause teeth grinding and clenching, which can wear down enamel and even chip teeth. It also restricts blood flow to the gums and teeth and can cause acid reflux which can cause tooth decay.

Increases Heart Rate and Blood Pressure – This can lead to heart attack and stroke.

Kidney Damage – Excessive use of amphetamines can overburden the kidneys causing significant damage.

Psychosis – Paranoia and even hallucinations can occur with prolonged use of stimulants.

Anxiety and Depression – Stimulant abuse can lead to high levels of dopamine in the brain. When a crash happens, this can cause a person to experience symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Unstable Mood – People experiencing withdrawals from stimulant medication can experience rapidly changing moods from irritability and anger to fleeting euphoria, happiness, and hyperactivity.

Opioids and Opiates

Gastrointestinal Problems– Nausea, vomiting, constipation, cramping, and even bleeding are regular side-effects of long-term use.

Respiratory Depression and Brain Damage– Also called irregular breathing, it can eventually lead to lower oxygen levels in the brain.

Conditions of The Heart– Long-term opioid use can cause irregular heart rhythms and can lead to problems like heart failure and stroke.

Short-Term Side Effects of Drug Abuse

Some short-term side effects can be just as dangerous as long-term ones. Overdose, for instance, is perhaps the biggest risk of drug abuse. Other severe risks include irregular heartbeat and even heart attack.

In terms of changes in behavior, specific drugs like cocaine, methamphetamine and alcohol produce highs that that can lead individuals to act irrationally and engage in risky behaviors.

Other common short-term side effects that are less dangerous include insomnia, lethargy, reduced appetite, anxiety, and psychosis.

Ways to Overcome Drug Abuse

There is a lot of confusion around what drives drug abuse. Many mistakenly believe that addiction is a personal choice–that those who are addicted to drugs made the choice to start and can simply exit the way they came in. When drug abuse becomes an addiction, however, this is no longer the case.

When a person becomes severely addicted to drugs and alcohol addiction treatment becomes necessary. Here are some examples of how drug abuse and addiction are typically treated.


Drug detoxification, the cleansing of the body of drugs and alcohol, marks the first step of addiction recovery.

When a person becomes severely addicted, the process of detox can reveal withdrawal symptoms which in some cases can be life-threatening. Depending on factors such as overall health, amount of use, and the kinds of drugs used in the question, medical inpatient detox may be necessary. These programs are designed to address needs like

  • 24-hour medically staffed environment
  • Nutritional support
  • Access to safe medications that can ease withdrawal symptoms
  • A relapse-free environment

Residential Inpatient Programs

After finishing Inpatient detox, it is strongly recommended to enroll in an inpatient rehab program. These residential programs range from intimate (only a few residents at a time) to larger programs with more staff.

Residential programs are highly structured and are typically completed in 1–3-month increments. During treatment, much of the day is spent in group or individual counseling, relapse management training, and educational workshops. Downtime is oriented towards reflection, socialization with peers, and reestablishing the connection between body and spirit.

Continuing Care with an Outpatient Program

Outpatient programs are recommended for individuals who have completed an inpatient program or need less intensive treatment. Outpatient programs can take place in hospitals, addiction treatment centers, and mental health clinics. They also exist in a few different formats, such as standard outpatient programs, intensive Outpatient Programs (IOPs), and Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHPs).

If you or a loved one is seeking information on addiction or mental health resources please call (888) 564-4780.