How Drug Addiction Impacts the Body

Addiction can affect anyone, but how substance abuse affects an individual can differ. Women are physically smaller than men, carry less water, and have more hormone fluctuations. Women also process, metabolize, and eliminate drugs much differently than their male counterparts, which means they could be more prone to long-term effects as their bodies retain chemicals for longer periods of time.

Legal or illegal drug abuse can result in various physical impacts. According to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, untreated addiction and risky drug use can contribute to more than 70 conditions that require medical treatment.

The physical effects of drug or alcohol addiction involve more than just physical appearance. While alcohol can have specific effects on the female, the physical effects caused by drugs can vary on the type of drugs being abused.



One of the most common effects of drug usage on the brain is changes in dopamine regulation and production. Drug usage can directly impact memory, cognition, learning, and overall intelligence.
  • Irreversible brain damage
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Drug tolerance
  • Memory loss
  • Impaired judgment


Reduced ability to focus, blurred vision, loss of vision, and distorted vision may occur due to drug addiction. Different types of drugs affect the eyes in different ways.
  • Dilation
  • Hallucinations
  • Conjunctival lesions
  • Risk of infectious corneal ulcers
  • Talc retinopathy
  • Permanent vision loss


Drug use can greatly impact oral health, including tooth decay, gum disease, ulcerations of gums and underlying bone, dry mouth, teeth grinding, and an increased risk of oral cancer.
  • Gingivitis
  • Tooth decay
  • Tooth loss
  • “Meth mouth”
  • Gum abscesses
  • Stripped tooth enamel


The circulatory system consists of the heart, blood vessels, glands, and more. Drug abuse can result in heart arrhythmias, heart attacks, collapsed veins, and infections.
  • Cardiomyopathy
  • High blood pressure
  • Irregular heart beat
  • Blood clotting
  • Anemia


Drug abuse can cause a variety of heart problems, from collapsed veins and infected heart valves, to abnormal heart rate and heart attack.
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Heart arrhythmia
  • Myocarditis
  • Endocarditis
  • Vascular thrombosis
  • Pulmonary edema


Bacterial infections, pneumonia, injury to the mucosal lining of the airways, tuberculosis, and cancer are just a few ways drug abuse can affect the lungs.
  • Chemical impact
  • Aspiration pneumonitis
  • Pneumonia
  • Lung infections
  • Lung cancer
  • Tuberculosis


Drug abuse can impact liver function, metabolism, blood processing, and mineral retention. Prescription drugs are particularly dangerous, as are drugs taken in combination or with alcohol.
  • Drug-induced liver injury (DILI)
  • Drug-induced hepatitis
  • Liver damage
  • Liver failure


Drug usage can cause nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, bowel tissue decay, acid reflux, and constipation, as well as long-term digestive issues.
  • Ulcers
  • Perforation of organ walls
  • Damage to the digestive system
  • Gangrene
  • Internal hemorrhaging


Drug abuse can cause the kidneys to be unable to excrete waste and regulate hormones, which can lead to kidney stress and failure.
  • Lesions on the kidneys
  • Rhabdomyolysis
  • Kidney cancer
  • Kidney failure
  • Irregular hormone levels


The pancreas is located between the stomach and spine and produces several hormones, most importantly, insulin. Drug addiction can stop the pancreas’s production of digestive enzymes, which can damage the tissues in surrounding organs. Additionally, drug use can cause chronic inflammation of the pancreas, also known as chronic pancreatitis.
  • Pancreatitis
  • Diabetes


Drugs can cause changes in skin and appearance, both from the effects of chemicals and using behaviors, such as grinding teeth or picking at skin.
  • Washed out appearance
  • Granulomas
  • Skin ulcerations
  • Infections
  • Acne or irritation
  • Sores and scars


Changes in your menstrual cycle, sexual dysfunction, and infertility are potential side effects of drug abuse. Additionally, drug users may be more likely to contract sexually transmitted diseases.
  • Sexually transmitted diseases
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Imbalanced testosterone
  • Fertility problems
  • Decreased sperm count


Over time, a drug addict may experience bone infections, osteoporosis, arthritis, and changes in posture.
  • Osteomyelitis
  • Osteoporosis
  • TMJ and dental deterioration
  • Arthritis
  • Sinal Injury


Along with bone infections, drug usage can lead to infections that spread to the surrounding soft tissues and joints. Intravenous drug users are also a greater risk for septic arthritis.
  • Arthritis
  • Avascular necrosis
  • Sprains/strains
  • Inflammation
  • Infection


Drug usage can have serious effects on your mental health. Addiction can lead to mood swings, anxiety, depression, insomnia, psychosis, and more.
  • Loss of relationships
  • Mood swings
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Insomnia
  • Psychosis
  • Detrimental life changes
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