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The Negative Side Effects of Addiction

Addiction is a primary, chronic, neurobiologic disease with genetic, psychosocial, and environmental factors influencing its development and manifestations. Addiction is characterized by behaviours that include:1

  • Impaired control over drug use
  • Compulsive use
  • Continued use despite harm
  • Cravings

As addiction is a multifaceted and complex issue, so are its negative effects across the lives of drug users and their families. It is often not one type of complication that disrupts the daily life of a person with addiction. The factors often work in tandem to create health risks.

One of the most noticeable side effects of addiction are the associated physical maladies. People with addiction often have one or more associated health issues, which could include: lung or heart disease, stroke, cancer, or mental health conditions. Often, these ailments can be spotted and diagnosed via imaging scans, x-rays, and blood tests or through psychiatric assessment.

While it is well known that alcohol can negatively affect the liver, and smoking anything can damage the lungs; It is a lesser known fact that amphetamines can contribute to poor dentition, and inhalants may damage or destroy nerve cells in the brain or peripheral nervous system.

Drug use can also increase the risk of contracting infections. HIV and hepatitis C can occur from sharing injection equipment or from unsafe practices such as condom-less sex. Infection of the heart and its valves (endocarditis) and skin infection (cellulitis) can occur after exposure to bacteria by injection drug use.

Impaired driving can also create severe negative effects due to addiction. Many people are aware of the dangers of driving while intoxicated when consuming alcohol. The use of illicit drugs or even the misuse of prescription drugs can make driving a car unsafe. Drugged driving puts the driver, passengers, pedestrians, and those who share the road at risk. In 2016, almost 12 million people ages 16 or older reported driving under the influence of illicit drugs, including marijuana. After alcohol, marijuana is the drug most often linked to impaired driving. Research studies have shown negative effects of marijuana on drivers, including an increase in weaving, negatively impacted reaction time, and altered attention to the road2.

Addiction can also have negative effects on one’s finances. The need for drugs, drink or any substance may mean that money is devoted to substance use in increasing amounts, and other necessities are ignored and financial problems can evolve. The desire for procure substances and/or money to procure substances may be so profound that it causes the user to act in ways they otherwise would not. Those who use substances are often prone to incurring debt or engaging in criminal or unethical behaviour to finance their use.

Substances have a two-way relationship with mental health. Mental health issues may occur ahead of addiction. Drug use can also amplify the symptoms of depression and anxiety or causing them to develop when they were not present before. Drug use can alter how some brain circuits work. Many drugs directly cause hallucinations and longer-term psychological effects that can lead to severe mental health problems. Excessive use of LSD, for example, might result in a slipping handle on reality and drug-induced psychosis. Excessive use of Cannabis has been known to cause psychosis and hyperemesis (prolonged bouts of vomiting) among certain portions of the population.  A 2014 study linked lifetime use of a number of different substances to increased levels of depression. A 2015 study showed that six times as many people who regularly misuse opiates attempt suicide as people who do not misuse opiates. The rate of death by suicide was two to three times higher in people who had a dependency on opiates3.

Addiction can also wreak havoc on a substance user’s interpersonal relationships. Alcohol is considered by experts to be the most harmful drug to other people (e.g., through assaults, domestic violence, etc.), followed by heroin and crack cocaine.

In a study that had experts rate the amount of harm to the user and others caused by a variety of drugs, alcohol was rated as producing the greatest economic cost, injury, and family adversity, while heroin was associated with the most crime.  These factors were the largest contributors to the societal consequences of substance use (Nutt et al., 2010)4

Addiction is a multifarious issue, as are its negative effects across the lives of drug users and their loved ones. Legal, interpersonal, health and other factors often work in tandem to create health risks. There are many negative effects that can impact a person with addiction.

By M. Ford


1 https://www.recoveryanswers.org/addiction-101/definitions-terminology/
2 https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/addiction-health
3 https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323461#psychological-complications
4 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21036393/

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