The human body consists of organs that function to keep a person alive. These organs need to stay healthy in order to operate and are essential to survival. Drug and alcohol use negatively affects all of them. There is more to addiction than choice and willpower. This is why simply stopping the drug or alcohol use is so hard to do without treatment.
Because of the wide range of substances that can be used, there are a plethora of side effects and consequences of use that range in severity. Regardless of the substance abused, addiction can cause physical and mental changes in the body. The type of substance abused, the duration of use, the amount used, and unique biological factors all contribute to the severity of symptoms experienced. For some, these side effects can be reversed and go away completely with proper treatment and sobriety. In other cases, the damage may be irreversible. The longer addiction is allowed to continue, the more stress it will place on the mind and body which can make the recovery process more difficult.
Mental and Behavioral Changes
The brain is a multifaceted organ that controls the way you feel, move, and talk. The brain also helps you think, learn, and process information in order to make critical decisions. When a person is addicted to drugs and alcohol, the brain’s function is compromised and it loses the ability to control the body.
According to Dr. Linda Mintle, author of Why Addiction is More Than a Choice, the effects of addiction are “pervasive and long-lasting and help explain why someone doesn’t will his way out of the disease. Addiction involves complex maladaptive learning patterns related to genetics, environment, psychosocial, behavioral and other factors that significantly change the brain” (Mintle, n.d.). The substances that invade the brain disrupt its performance by altering all normal activity.
Mental Health Changes
Addiction and mental health disorders are commonly linked. In some cases, addiction develops as a means of self-medication for symptoms of a mental health disorder. In others, addiction can cause symptoms of a mental health disorder to develop. Mental health consequences associated with addiction can range from mild to severe. While there are a wide range of symptoms that may present themselves due to substance abuse, especially in cases where hallucinogens are used, the most common mental health outcomes of addiction include:
- Depression: Substance abuse and depression are frequently connected. Drugs and alcohol are commonly used as a means of attempting to boost mood, but in many cases, they can cause symptoms to worsen. In addition, it is not uncommon for those in recovery to struggle with depression, particularly during the early stages of withdrawal. As the body adjusts to no longer having the substance in its system, it can create depressive symptoms, mood swings, and disturbances that can make the detox process more difficult.
- Anxiety: Anxiety and other panic disorders are often associated with substance abuse. Much like other mood disorders, a person may use drugs or alcohol to self-medicate, but it can worsen symptoms overall. Some substances can actually cause anxiety problems to develop as a result of continued abuse. During withdrawal, many people struggle with symptoms of anxiety as part of the recovery process.
- Paranoia: Substance abuse can cause paranoia to develop and symptoms can intensify with long-term use of drugs or alcohol. Depending on the type of substance abused, paranoia may be accompanied by other symptoms that can contribute to the severity of it.
In addition to the impact of substance abuse on mental health, behavioral changes can also be attributed to abuse. Addiction can cause a person’s behaviors to change in a way that supports continued use even if they might not have acted in that manner otherwise. Coupled with mental health side effects, some behaviors may be considered erratic, negligent, or aggressive. Some of the most common behavioral changes observed in those who abuse substances include:
- Lying to friends and family
- Disassociating with friends in favor of a different group of people
- Becoming more secretive
- An inability to manage responsibilities at home, work, or school
- No longer engaging in activities that once brought joy
- Experiencing financial trouble due to substance abuse
- Feeling extreme cravings and an inability to stop using
- Continued use despite consequences to physical and mental health
The physical side effects of substance abuse are often quickly recognizable. As a person abuses drugs and alcohol more frequently, their tolerance increases, causing them to use larger amounts more frequently to achieve the same outcome. This can make the physical consequences of substance abuse much clearer and more abundant.
Many physical signs can be attributed to the type of substance used and how it is administered. The frequency of use and dosage can also play a significant role in the severity of symptoms. There are countless ways addiction can show itself, but some of the most common physical characteristics and changes include:
- Changes in the eyes: The appearance of someone’s eyes often changes based off the type of substance abused. You may notice dilated or constricted pupils and a bloodshot or glassy appearance. Different substances can cause the eyes to react in specific ways and it is a side effect that cannot be easily concealed from others.
- Changes in weight: Depending on the type of substance abused, you may notice significant changes in weight. Sudden weight loss or weight gain can both be attributed to addiction. While this alone does not indicate there is a substance abuse problem, it can be one of the features you observe in someone who is dealing with addiction.
- Changes in hygiene: Someone who uses drugs or alcohol may not tend to hygienic needs as much as they used to. They may not shower as frequently, their dental hygiene may suffer, and you may notice an odor on their clothes. When substance abuse takes priority, things like personal hygiene tend to not receive as much attention.
- Skin changes: Depending on the substance abused, some substances can cause changes to the skin. Some substance abuse can age a person and make them appear older than they are. Other drugs produce side effects that may cause a person to pick at their skin, resulting in scabbing. If drugs are injected, you may observe track marks or scars.
When a person is addicted to drugs and alcohol, the whole body is affected. The brain loses the ability to maintain control and challenges the person to keep using, even when he or she wants to stop. There is good news: recovery is possible. It is important to learn how to stay happy and healthy in recovery from addiction. If you or a loved one struggles with addiction, get help today.
If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, we are here to help. Give us a call at 888.855.6877 or send us a message below and one of our admissions counselors will do their best to get you the help you need.