What are the long-term dangers of drug and alcohol abuse?
Many drug addicts develop a lifelong dependancy problem. This poses serious health complications due to the side effects on the mind and the body that the substance causes. Some of the damage done, especially to the brain, is irreversible.
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The risk that alcohol poises to health
As the organ responsible for metabolising alcohol is the liver, the most prominent damage from long-term alcohol abuse occurs here. The January 2005 issue of Alcohol Alert reported cirrhosis of the liver as the fourth-leading cause of death in that year.
Sustained alcohol use can not only damage the tissue in the liver and cause cirrhosis. Other long-term effects include cognitive impairment and memory loss. Neurons are vulnerable to alcohol, especially if alcohol abuse begins during adolescence while the brain is still developing.
Can marijuana be harmful to the brain?
Marijuana is harmful if used heavily over a long period. Although not thought to be carcinogenic, the inhalation of smoke causes damage to the lung tissue and alveoli, making it harder to get oxygen into the bloodstream. Frequent coughing and congestion can be caused by long-term marijuana use. Marijuana can lower testosterone levels and sperm count in men, as well as raising testosterone in women. This can make it more difficult to conceive a child.
According to the 2008 Archives of General Psychiatry, chronic marijuana users have been found to have an average of 12 percent less brain matter in the hippocampus, the area of the brain thought to control emotion and memory. Marijuana also clouds mental judgement and often leads to poor decision making. The cumulative effects on one’s life can be quite disastrous.
Behavioural symptoms of drug use
Drug abuse negatively affects a person’s behaviour as they become dependent on the drug. The drug itself can alter the brain’s ability to focus and form coherent thoughts. Changes in behaviour such as increased aggression, lethargy, depression or sudden changes in a social network can indicate a problem with drug abuse. For example, alcohol can make a person more aggressive and prone to getting into fights.
As “use” turns towards “abuse”, it is common for the compulsion to use drugs begins to take over a person’s thoughts and their life. Performance at school or work will suffer because of a lack of focus and shifting priorities. He or she may decide to skip class to smoke marijuana or call out of work due to a severe hangover.
The consequences of prescription drug abuse
Habitual use of prescription drugs can create complications including anxiety, skin problems, organ damage, chronic drowsiness, lethargy and intermittent muscle paralysis.
The long term use of anti-depressants can cause weight gain, confusion, anxiety and sexual disfunction. Suicidal thoughts and depression can occur during the withdrawal period of these drugs.
All of these prescription drugs are habit forming and can cause dependancy – the core symptom of drug abuse. According to the Center for Disease Control, in 2011 over 15,000 people died from prescription drug overdoses alone.
The peripheral effects of long-term drug use
Long-term drug abuse also has peripheral health effects not resulting directly from the drug use itself. These can include:
- Increased stress
- Malnutrition due to lack of money
People who chronically abuse drugs are subject to emotional distress and mental disorders. The link between mental problems and drug abuse runs both way. Anxiety can lead to drug use, and drug use often leads to anxiety. It is common for drug users to be more prone to experiencing depression, and to feel stuck in the cycle of long-term drug use.