Substance abuse can be harmful to both physical and mental health, but not everyone who abuses drugs develops an addiction. Addiction is a compulsive need or urge to use substances regardless of the amount of harm it has caused. Prolonged use of substances fundamentally changes the way the brain works, causing a person to struggle with overwhelming urges that feel impossible to control. Even when facing financial trouble, damaged relationships, and physical or mental health problems, the desire to use outweighs everything else.

Addiction often starts as abuse and evolves over time. Use of substances to cope with stress, avoid difficult situations, or relax may start as a behavior you can control. Over time, however, the wiring in your brain can change from repeated substance abuse, encouraging you to keep engaging in behaviors that make you feel good. Substance abuse targets the brain’s reward system which motivates a person to continuously use substances even when faced with negative consequences.

Addiction and the Mind

Because substance abuse has the potential to change the way the brain is wired, quitting may seem like an impossible task. The longer a person abuses substances for, the harder it can be to stop. This is because prolonged abuse of drugs or alcohol can increase tolerance. This means that a person must use higher doses in order to achieve the same effects. Coupled with its impact on judgement and decision-making, a person may put themselves in dangerous situations in order to fuel their addiction.

Addiction and mental health are closely linked. In some cases, the presence of a mental health condition can fuel the development of addiction. In others, substance abuse can trigger symptoms and may cause a mental health condition to develop. Some ways this connection may present itself include:

  1. Risky behavior: A person who is addicted to drugs or alcohol may be more likely to engage in risky behaviors in order to fuel the addiction. They may steal or use sex as a means of obtaining what they want. They may be more likely to engage in dangerous behaviors such as driving under the influence, having unprotected sex, or may share needles with others, increasing the risk of contracting a disease.
  2. Method of coping: Rather than facing problems directly or finding healthy ways of dealing with stressors, substance abuse becomes a method of coping. This often worsens the stressor and adds additional negative consequences to an already challenging situation.
  3. Preoccupation with substance abuse: Addiction can quickly become the most important aspect of a person’s life. As addiction develops, it often becomes a priority and can cause a person to obsess over how to get their substance of choice, when to use it, and even how to use it.
  4. An inability to stop: Even when faced with adverse consequences, a person may find themselves incapable of stopping use. There are many factors that play a role in this, but psychological dependence and withdrawal symptoms often have the most significant impact.
  5. Mental health conditions: Prolonged use of substances can lead to the development of mental health symptoms. Rates of depression, anxiety, loneliness, behavioral problems and other mental health conditions are prevalent in those who abuse drugs and alcohol. Continued use can create severe complications and worsened symptoms that may lead to drastic actions such as overdoses or suicide.

The Physical Impact of Addiction

In addition to changing the way the mind works, substance abuse takes its toll on the body as well. Depending on the types of substances used, the duration of time, biology, and the amount used, physical symptoms of addiction can range in severity. Regardless of how long it takes for symptoms to present themselves, repeated use of drugs or alcohol can cause long-term damage that may be irreversible in some cases.

Some of the physical consequences of substance abuse can include:

  1. Withdrawal symptoms: Prolonged use of drugs or alcohol can create dependencies in which a person no longer feels “normal” without the substance. When a person is not using or is using less than normal, they may experience withdrawal symptoms that range in severity from mildly uncomfortable to life-threatening. Withdrawal symptoms can make it feel impossible to quit, especially without the help of medical professionals.
  2. Physical damage and disease: Substance abuse can cause a variety of illnesses and ailments to develop over time. Depending on what is used, a person can develop a wide range of conditions that may impact their overall quality of life. Things like organ damage, infection, cancer, and other illnesses may develop due to substance abuse.
  3. Changes in appearance: Substance abuse can have a significant impact on a person’s appearance due to its ability to impact appetite, sleep, and priorities. It is not uncommon to observe weight changes, lack of personal hygiene, and other signs of being unkempt in those with an addiction.
  4. Increased tolerance: Repeated use of drugs or alcohol inevitably increases tolerance to their effects. Over time, a person will need to use more in order to achieve the same effects. With increased tolerance comes an increased risk for overdose, the development of dangerous side effects, and an increased risk for death.

Addiction and Quality of Life

The impact of addiction on a person’s quality of life can vary based on the type of substance used, the frequency of use, and the amount of time it has been abused. Over time, addiction can cause relationships to fall apart, financial struggle, and a plethora of health issues that can complicate multiple areas of life.

If any physical or psychological symptoms begin to present themselves and interfere with daily life, it may be time to consider dual-diagnosis addiction treatment. The signs of addiction development vary from person to person, making it important to pay attention to behavioral changes and intervene when there is a cause for concern.

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.


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