The Health Consequences of Addiction

When we think of the consequences of addiction, we often think of the financial and social impacts, such as loss of work, or arrests from drug-related behavior. We might also think of the physical effects that the drug abuse and addiction might have on the addict, such as the dependence on the drug, or the effects that the drug has on the brain and nervous system.

For example, people might be aware that alcohol abuse can damage the liver, but they might not realize that alcoholism can also contribute to heart disease, hypertension, and even stroke.

Below are some of the medical issues associated with drug abuse and addiction which, according to this report, are also the focus of harm reduction and prevention policies.

drug addiction


The Medical Effects of Drug Abuse and Addiction

Drug abuse and addiction affects the entire body, and often with long-tern consequences.


Immune System and Infectious Diseases

Drug use increases your risk for HIV/AIDS with Intravenous (IV) drug users being one of the highest-risk groups.  One of the reasons IV drug users are so high-risk is because the needles that addicts used to inject the drugs could be infected with HIV, especially if they share their needles and paraphernalia with other users.

IV drug users are also at greater risk for other infectious diseases, like hepatitis C, which are also passed through blood exposure from infected needles.

People who abuse drugs are also at higher risk for HIV and other infectious diseases because the drug use can also lead to other high risk behaviors, such as unprotected sex.


Respiratory and Cardiovascular Effects

There are several drugs that can have damaging effects on the respiratory and cardiovascular systems, including damage to the lungs, abnormal heart rate, collapsed veins, and bacterial infections that can affect the heart valves.

People who crush and inject pills can also have issues with damage to the blood vessels. Pills are not designed to be injected. When they are crushed and dissolved, some of the matter does not dissolve entirely. When those undissolved particles are injected into the blood stream, they can damage the blood vessels.

Other drugs can cause elevated cholesterol, high blood pressure, enlargement of the heart, scarring on the lung and damage to the air sacs in the lungs.


Neurological Effects

It’s no secret that drug abuse and addiction can damage the brain, what people might not understand is that the damage goes beyond “dead” brain cells.

For example, crystal meth actually rewires the connections in the brain, changing the way people think. It also depletes a crucial neurotransmitter in the brain that controls mood and pleasure. When people stop using meth they can experience depression and loss of pleasure, and it can take years to recover.

There are several other drugs, like heroin, that can also deplete crucial brain chemicals and rewire connections in the brain. They can also damage the parts of the brain that control memory. If someone has a drug abuse-related stroke, the damage from the stroke can cause memory loss, loss of motor skills, loss of speech, and loss of cognitive function.


Prenatal Effects

Drug abuse can have several effects on the fetus as it develops in the womb. Some of the effects could include slowed development, birth defects, low birth weight, premature birth and miscarriage. Children born to mothers who abuse drugs during pregnancy are also at greater risk of having cognitive and behavioral problems later in life.

Fetuses can also be exposed to the drugs in the womb, causing the fetus to become addicted to the drug, and suffer many of the same physical effects as a fully-formed person using the same drugs outside of the womb. Additionally, children born to mothers who abuse drugs during pregnancy are also at a greater risk of having addiction issues later in life.


Harm Reduction and Prevention

Harm reduction and prevention is the process of mitigating the negative effects of drug abuse and addiction, including the results of criminalization and stigmatization, which can interfere with recovery. It also focuses on reducing the medical effects, especially instances of HIV/AIDS, by providing people with alternatives to sharing needles.

Harm reduction and prevention programs are often criticized because some people believe that they encourage or reward drug addiction. However, these types of programs have had success around the world in reducing the medical and societal effects of drug abuse and addiction.


 Article By Jennifer Smith

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