We all know (or have been told) that drugs are bad. They can lead to addiction, infectious diseases, or even overdose. But at the same time, many of us dismiss the potential consequences, thinking, “It just won’t happen to me.” Especially with the rise of marijuana legalization and the widespread use of prescription painkillers today, it’s easy to think that casual use of these drugs is now legal and safe.
What many of us don’t think about, however, is the negative, long-term effects of drugs – those prescription drugs you sometimes sneak away from the medicine cabinet, the occasional weed joint, as well as those dangerous street drugs like heroin and methamphetamine. Sure, some of us may be intimately familiar with the shorter-term effects of drug use, but what do drugs do to your body long-term?
The fact is, all drugs have potential long-term effects, and they will vary depending on your substance of choice. This is especially true for younger users whose brains are not fully developed.
It’s important to note that, no matter the drug, these effects can happen fast. Many people – particularly early users – are under the impression that doing drugs a handful of times will not be cause for concern. Many will use drugs very casually or recreationally, without thinking about the potential consequences. Every now and then, it’s okay to use drugs, right? Unfortunately, the short answer is no. There is always a risk when using drugs, even if it is for the first-time. Drug overdose happens fast, especially among unknowing users who take too much at once, or who unintentionally take a laced drug (which is becoming more of an issue than ever before).
Not only is overdose a potential risk, but long-term use of any drug (no matter how much or how often one is using), can make a person vulnerable to its long-term effects. Each time you use drugs, they interfere with the way your brain works, disrupting its chemical make-up and changing the way it communicates with the rest of the body. Each class of drug has a different effect on the brain, but all have the potential to leave lasting changes that impact the way a person thinks, learns, and behaves. This is where addiction comes into play. As more of a drug is used, the brain starts to rely on it to function and requires more and more of the drug to get high.
Knowing this, you can better understand that addiction is clinically considered a chronic disease of the brain. Because of the way they affect the brain, over time, drugs will begin to alter a person’s capacity to make rational decisions, to pay attention and remember things, to motivate themselves, and ultimately, to experience pleasure and be happy. These effects can be long-term, and lead to or bring about co-occurring mental health issues down the road. This is something that – to many’s surprise – can happen with early, frequent, and repeated marijuana use.
Long-Term Effects of Marijuana
In youth under age 25, marijuana has been reported to cause learning and memory deficits. Studies show that marijuana use during the teen years (even after abstinence) can result in an IQ drop of up to 8 points, as well as poor performance on cognitive tests.
Not only this, but chronic marijuana use during adolescence and young adulthood has also been linked to many mental health disorders. This includes the development of schizophrenia, as well as an increased risk for anxiety disorders, more symptoms of bipolar disorder, and greater likelihood to have suicidal thoughts. Read this article for more information about marijuana’s effect on the brain.
Still, most people do not perceive marijuana is harmful – including 75 percent of high school seniors.
Long-Term Effects of Opioids or Opioids
Opiates are a class of drugs that range from heroin, to fentanyl, to prescriptions like OxyContin and Vicodin. While each type has its own, unique side effects, opioids in all forms present a handful of long-term effects, including those from respiratory depression and hypoxia (a lack of oxygen to the brain): coma, brain damage, psychological and neurological effects. Opioids under all names are scheduled as highly-addictive drugs, and therefore pose great risk for substance use disorders.
There is currently an opioid epidemic in our country, in which thousands of people are overdosing on drugs both illicit and legal. In fact, in 2017, fatal overdoses reached a record high, with more than 70,000 Americans dying from a drug-related overdose. This is one of the most severe, longest term effects of this class of drugs. And with the rise of fentanyl-laced substances, the risk of this is getting worse. Whether you are using drugs yourself or have a loved one who uses drugs, it’s important to know the signs and symptoms of an opioid overdose. By knowing these, and by having Narcan nearby, you can save a life.
Long-Term Effects of Cocaine
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, cocaine can leave a lasting effect – long after the drug is used. As noted above, cocaine changes the brain function and causes lower levels of brain activity than you’d find in a non-user. In addition to a loss in brain function, cocaine can also cause:
- Malnourishment from lack of appetite
- Movement disorders, including Parkinson’s Disease
- Severe paranoia and hallucinations
- If snorted, cocaine can cause a long-term loss of smell and problems swallowing
- If consumed by mouth, it can cause bowel decay from reduced blood flow
- If injected (as with any drug injection), it increases the risk for HIV, hepatitis C, and other bloodborne illnesses
These are just some of the many long-term effects of drugs on the body, but they don’t end here. To learn more about the physical impact of drug abuse, check out our infographic here. You will find that drug use, in any and all its forms, can lead to severe effects on the body, as well as hospitalization and even death. If untreated, the life expectancy of a drug addict is only 15 to 20 years more, starting when the addiction begins.
It is never too early to seek out professional help for a drug addiction—but sometimes, it can be too late. Get the help you or your loved one deserves. Find a drug addiction center that specializes in co-occurring substance use and mental health disorders, and that is equipped to handle your physical, mental, and emotional needs during this time. Find a drug addiction treatment center that is fully tailored to you.