Abusing drugs and alcohol can have a detrimental impact on your mind, emotions, relationships, and overall well-being. Even misusing legal prescription drugs can cause cognitive impairment and mental health challenges such as anxiety or depression. But abusing substances doesn’t just affect your mind. Addiction also weakens the physical body. Using toxic substances like addictive drugs gradually destroys vital systems. When this happens, the body operates less effectively, which in turn, makes you more vulnerable to illness, infection, and disease.
How Addiction Weakens The Body
In the simplest terms, addiction is a strong compulsion to get and use substances despite undesirable and dangerous consequences. In Drugs, Brain, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction, substance abuse is defined as “a medical disorder that affects the brain and changes behavior.” Severe substance use disorder happens when using addictive substances becomes an uncontrollable habit that hurts your day-to-day life. Often, this compulsion causes struggles at work, home, or school, as well as relationship conflicts and legal or financial problems.
Substance abuse can also cause a wide range of short- and long-term health effects. Though the impact of addiction can vary depending on the type, quantity, and frequency of your use, any type of substance addiction can impact almost every organ in the human body.
Addiction weakens the body by:
- Dismantling the immune system, which increases the risk of illness and infection. Chronic substance abuse lowers the body’s normal defense responses. This means that people living with addiction are typically less equipped to fight off infection. Different substances impair the immune system in different ways. Alcohol, for example, decreases the functionality of the liver and pancreas, allowing toxins to diminish the immune system. Smoking crack and cocaine damages mucous membranes in the nose, throat, and lungs, reducing the immune system’s response to lung infections. Similarly, marijuana reduces the body’s ability to resist viruses, bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. Injecting drugs into the veins and sharing needles increases the risk of viral infections like HIV and hepatitis B or C.
- Impacting the cardiovascular system. Some addictive substances cause abnormal heart rates, while others can lead to heart attacks, collapsed veins, and blood vessel infections. Heroin and other drugs injected into the veins increase the risk of heart infections, while cocaine increases the risk of a heart attack or stroke. Excessive drinking and alcoholism can cause high blood pressure, heart failure, and cardiomyopathy, a disorder that decreases the heart’s ability to deliver blood to the body.
- Increasing strain on the liver, which can increase your risk of liver damage and failure. While alcohol abuse damages liver cells, drugs such as heroin, inhalants, and steroids can cause fatty liver disease, hepatitis, and jaundice.
- Raising the risk of respiratory problems and lung disease. Alcohol can reduce your breathing rate while opioids tend to worsen existing respiratory issues such as emphysema, bronchitis, and asthma. Smoking marijuana can increase your risk of developing chronic bronchitis, while depressants and hallucinogens can slow your breathing and block air from entering the lungs, worsening asthma symptoms.
- Deprive the body of essential nutrients and vitamins by suppressing your appetite.
As addiction weakens the physical body, the likelihood of developing various illnesses, conditions, and diseases increases.
Common Illnesses Associated With Addiction
Abusing drugs and alcohol can lead to lasting damage to the body. Some of the most common illnesses caused or worsened by substance abuse include:
- Immunosuppression, or the weakening of the immune system. When this condition develops, you become more vulnerable to disease and infection. Even though this condition can be caused by many different factors, studies show that prolonged opioid abuse and substance abuse can be one of the main causes of the disease. Infections resulting from immunosuppression typically include hepatitis, HIV, and cancer.
- Pancreatitis, or inflammation of the pancreas. The pancreas helps the liver break down foods and toxins in your body. Drugs and alcohol ingested orally harm the digestive system. Alcohol abuse significantly weakens the pancreas, causing the organ to stop secreting digestive enzymes. Instead, the pancreas keeps these enzymes inside, damaging the organ’s tissues and causing inflammation. Common symptoms of pancreatitis include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and a fast heart rate. If left untreated, pancreatitis can become chronic, which can be fatal. Addiction can also cause other illnesses associated with the gastrointestinal tract such as gastrointestinal reflux diseases (GERD), reflux esophagitis, and gastrointestinal cancer.
- Pneumonia, an infection of the lungs caused by the spread of bacteria or viruses. Heavy alcohol abuse is one of the leading risk factors of pneumonia. As alcohol weakens and disrupts functions that process bacteria in the body, toxins build up in the lungs. Alcohol also impairs the body’s ability to remove mucus from the lungs, making breathing difficult. The combination of toxins and mucus causes the lungs to swell and triggers symptoms such as chest pain, coughing, shortness of breath, fatigue, nausea, and vomiting.
- Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), which typically develops as a response to severe inflammation and buildup of fluid in the lungs. Researchers have discovered that people abusing alcohol are 3 times more likely to develop ARDS than those who don’t have an addiction to alcohol. Other lung conditions typically caused by alcohol addiction include tuberculosis and sepsis, which can be life-threatening.
- Cardiac arrest. Stimulants like cocaine and methamphetamines speed up activity in the central nervous system, increasing your heart rate. Consistent variations in blood pressure can cause an increased risk of blood clots, ischemic injury, and other circulatory problems. Excessive use of stimulants can cause the heart to enter cardiac arrest.
- Cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, substance abuse and addiction make up about 30% of all cancer deaths. In addition to alcoholism contributing to oral, liver, and colon cancer, dealers often mix illicit drugs such as heroin and cocaine with cancer-causing agents. In short, addiction can make you more likely to develop mouth, stomach, testicular, and esophageal cancer.
- Kidney failure. Every drug you put into your body passes through the kidneys. The kidneys filter the blood pumped throughout your body in order to create urine. The kidneys also excrete drugs and alcohol from the body. Unfortunately, these substances damage the kidneys, allowing toxic substances to build up in the blood, furthering harming them. Continued drug and alcohol use can eventually cause kidney failure.
Remember, we’re not doctors and this isn’t medical advice. If you are concerned about your physical health due to addiction or substance use, contact your healthcare provider today.
Overcome Addiction and Rebuild Your Physical Health
Addiction can damage nearly every organ in your body. Thankfully, abstaining from addictive substances and living a sober lifestyle can help undo some of the damage caused by addiction. Our comprehensive rehabilitation programs can help you overcome addiction challenges and strengthen your physical health in a non-judgemental, supportive environment.
Here at Genesis Recovery, we know that addiction doesn’t have to continue to control your life and negatively affect your health. You can begin again. Contact us today if you’re ready to begin or continue that journey.