Health Risks Associated With Long-Term Drug Use

health risksIt is no myth that drug use can result in serious complications for the individual user. Short-term side effects can range from the initial rush one gets from using to fatal consequences. Prolonged use of drugs, however, can have damaging and sometimes irreversible effects on the brain and body.


The first, and perhaps the most obvious, problem related to consistent drug use is addiction. Addiction is chronic disease that is marked by intense cravings for and dependency on the substance. Without treatment, addiction can control every aspect of the user’s life – from decision-making abilities to daily activities like sleep and eating. The response associated with addiction is that of survival. Individuals dependent on drugs or alcohol feel as if they need the substance to function; obtaining the drug is a means to an end, so to speak.

Undergoing appropriate therapies for addiction can significantly reduce the symptoms of the disease, although battling addiction is a long-term process. Perhaps more startling is the effect drugs have on the brain. Many drug users continue use because they enjoy the way the drug makes him or her feel. Some have euphoric effects like heroin; other drugs such as marijuana make the user feel mellow. Eventually, the individual will build up a tolerance for the drug, meaning larger amounts of the drug will be needed to achieve the same high. With tolerance and increased drug use, the brain is largely affected.

Drugs and The Brain

Drugs and alcohol literally kill brain cells. Important neurons in the brain are affected each time a person uses drugs. At first, one might not think of the long-term problems associated with drug use, but that doesn’t mean these consequences aren’t taking shape. Think of the brain’s neurons as little light bulbs on a strand. With repeated use, neurons eventually die – the light bulbs dim and die out. Drugs mimic the brain chemicals like serotonin and dopamine and, in the brain’s effort to adjust, the brain is essentially tricked into allowing the drugs to take hold in the brain.

The American Psychological Association’s 2001 report on drug use cited that cognition is central to understanding drug addiction and how drugs affect the brain. The frontal cortex, the center of the brain responsible for cognitive growth and development, is largely affected by continued drug use. This area guides decision-making, memory, planning, inhibition, and response. When the frontal cortex is damaged, these vital processes are impaired.

Other psychological and cognitive health risks associated with drug use include:

  • Loss or impairment of memory, decision-making skills, inhibition
  • Psychosis, paranoia, anxiety
  • Loss or impairment of motor functions

Drugs and Physical Health

The consequences of prolonged drug use on the brain are scary enough to think about, but there are other physical complications that can arise with repeated substance abuse. A drug-dependent user does not often care about how to obtain the drug, which can often result in carelessness when using. Sharing needles or other drug paraphernalia can increase the risk of infectious diseases like HIV/AIDS and hepatitis. Because drug use can loosen one’s inhibitions, the risk for contracting sexually transmitted diseases and other communicable diseases is higher as well.

Physical health problems that concern the body’s cardiovascular, respiratory, and gastrointestinal systems can be severely affected as well. Drug abusers and addicts often have ailments that can last for years and are at a higher risk for heart disease, heart attack, stroke, and heart or breathing abnormalities.

In short, drug use can affect an individual for years, long after the use stops. That’s why seeking immediate professional treatment is imperative to preventing further complications that could last for indefinite periods of time. The sooner you seek help, the sooner you can combat the negative effects of drug use and addiction. Call us here at The Oaks at La Paloma today and get help for addiction before it’s too late.