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Substance use & Addiction

Drugs are chemicals that affect the body and the brain. Different drugs can have different effects. Some effects of drugs include health consequences that are long-lasting and permanent. They can even continue after a person has stopped taking the substance. 

Addiction is a chronic disease characterized by compulsively seeking and using drugs. This compulsion is difficult to control, despite the harmful consequences. Alcohol is the most frequently used and misused substance in the United State. Alcohol misuse is especially problematic among youth and college-aged populations.

Despite knowing the negative outcomes, many people who use drugs continue to take them. This is the nature of addiction. Today, more than 7 million people suffer from an illicit drug disorder, and one in four deaths results from illicit drug use. People suffering from drug and alcohol addiction also have a higher risk of unintentional injuries, accidents and domestic violence incidents.

Why do some people become addicted to drugs while others do not?

There is no one factor that predicts if a person will become addicted to drugs. It is a combination of factors that influence their risk for addiction. The more risk factors a person has, the greater the change that taking drugs that can lead to addition. 

  • Biology (Genetic) – The genes a person is born with account for about half of a person’s risk for addiction. Gender, ethnicity, and the presence of the mental health problems may also influence the risk for drug use and addiction.
  • Environment – A person’s environment includes influences from their family and friends to economic status and general quality of life. Outside factors such as peer pressure, physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, early exposure to drugs, stress, and parental guidance can greatly affect a person’s likelihood of drug use and addiction. 
  • Development – Genetic and environmental factors influence critical developmental stages in a person’s life to affect addiction risk. Although taking drugs at any age can lead to addiction, the earlier that drug use begins, the more likely it will progress to addiction. This is particularly problematic for teens. The areas in their brains that control decision-making, judgement, and self-control are still developing. Teens may be especially prone to risky behaviors, including trying drugs. 

Effects Of Drug Abuse On Health

Substance use disorders are associated with a wide range of short- and long-term impacts on the user’s health. They can vary depending on the type of drug, how much and how often it’s taken and the person’s general health. Overall, the effects of drug abuse and dependence can be far-reaching. They can impact almost every organ in the human body. 

Side effects may include:

  • A weakened immune system, increasing the risk of illness and infection
  • Heart conditions ranging from abnormal heart rates to heart attacks and collapsed veins and blood vessel infection from injected drugs
  • Nausea and abdominal pain, which can also lead to changes in appetite and weight loss
  • Increased strain on the liver, which puts the person at risk of significant liver damage or liver failure
  • Seizures, stroke, mental confusion and brain damage
  • Lung disease
  • Problems with memory, attention and decision-making, which make daily living more difficult
  • Global effects of drugs on the body, such as breast development in men and increases in body temperature, which can lead to other health problems

The most severe health consequences of drug abuse is death. Deaths related to synthetic opioids and heroin have seen the greatest rise. In the past 12 months, 212,000 people age 12 or older have used heroin for the first time. Ever day, more than 90 Americans die after overdosing on opioids. 

Sources: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and MedlinePlus.gov


Links to various resources on the topics discuss on this page. 

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