The long term effects of drugs can be absolutely devastating for us, both mentally and physically. 

It goes without saying that different drugs can have different effects, and it’s even true that different people may react differently to the long term effects of taking drugs.

Despite this, there are also many common effects shared between most drugs, and there are physical and mental symptoms of drug abuse that show themselves time, and time again.

From liver damage to heart disease, from depression to anxiety, and from broken relationships to financial ruin, if you abuse drugs on a regular basis, it is only a matter of time before one of these life-changing effects catches up with you.

Most drugs work by altering the chemical composition of our brains – something that may cause minimal damage when done once, but when this is done regularly in the long term, it can quite easily change the way our brains work permanently, leading not only to addiction and withdrawal itself, but to memory loss, mental health issues, and plenty more.

Long Term Effects of Drugs on the Body

X-ray of body

As mentioned, drug abuse can damage the way your body works. This can often be permanent but there are also many treatments available, so this shouldn’t necessarily be a reason to give up hope. The damage you can cause by using drugs ranges from mild inconvenience to organ failure and death, with every biological system we have being affected.

For example:

Internal Organs such as the Kidney and Liver

Long term drug use can easily cause liver failure, especially heroin, opioids, alcohol, or any drug that is often used while drinking alcohol. Liver failure can be fatal and as such regularly mixing hard drugs with strong alcohol such as spirits is one of the most dangerous things a person can do.

The kidneys are equally at risk, and regular drug abusers experience symptoms such as dehydration, muscle tissue breakdown and more, all of which can lead to long-term kidney damage or complete kidney failure, with the risk increasing depending on how long the person in question has been using drugs.

The Heart & Cardiovascular System

Heart problems

Long term drug use is extremely taxing on the cardiovascular system. Drugs that are taken intravenously such as heroin can lead to collapsed veins and even infections such as Hepatitis or STDs in the case of shared needles. Stimulants like cocaine or amphetamines also have a heavy impact on the heart. Whereas even a single use of these drugs can permanently impair heart function, regular long term can lead to heart failure, heart attacks and death.

Internal/Gastrointestinal Effects

Many drugs that are swallowed such as MDMA, ecstasy, and other ‘bombs’ or pills are harsh on the inside of the stomach and intestines, which can cause pain, loss of appetite, nausea, constipation and other similar problems in the first instance. Long term use of these drugs can lead to stomach ulcers, irritated stomach lining, damaged internal organs and serious, permanent stomach pain.

Respiratory System/Lungs

Man with flu

The most obvious drugs that cause long term damage to the respiratory system are those that are smoked – cannabis, crack, heroin or even tobacco can cause chest infections, lung cancer and bronchitis, but smoking drugs isn’t the only risk to your breathing. Opioid use leads to slower, shallower breathing which can be fatal in the case of asthma suffers, and even intense alcohol use can lead to difficulty breathing.

The Long Term Effects of Drugs on the Brain

Effects of drugs on the brain

The way long term drug use changes our brain chemistry is the reason it can be so difficult to quit.

Drug use releases dopamine in the brain, giving us a sense of contentment and satisfaction, but experiencing this regularly day in, day out for a long period of time can make it nearly impossible to get this ‘reward’ feeling from the natural day-to-day situations it was designed for.

Unfortunately, this means we continue to abuse drugs to chase this feeling, but with tolerances rising, the actual amount of drugs we use in each session can increase too.

This leads to serious, long term impairment of brain function, such as:

Impaired Brain Function

Impaired Brain Function

When our neurotransmitters and receptors go into overdrive due to drug use, our body attempts to account and compensate for it. For one-off drug use, this may even be successful in preventing brain damage, but when it happens daily in the long term, the end result is a complete change in the way the brain functions, which is likely to drastically impact short and long term memory, concentration, and even the ability to learn new things.

Brain Conditioning

Buying drugs

As we grow up, we learn what is enjoyable and healthy for us via the release of serotonin, dopamine and other “reward” chemicals in the brain.

Exercise, eating healthy, socialising, or even hugging a friend all give us this reward and help us learn that these are healthy, positive habits to maintain throughout life.

If a person grows older and begins to abuse drugs, the stronger “reward” feeling caused by the drugs, combined with memory loss and difficulty concentrating, will work together to make the drug user “forget” about these positive habits and begin associating those feelings with drug abuse.

This leads to addictive behaviour, for example, you may crave drugs whenever you see a friend that you use them with, or at a certain time when you are used to using drugs each day.

Death of Brain Cells

Brain cells

Many drugs are toxic, and the long term effects of recreational drugs in this category include the death of irreplaceable brain cells. While most other effects listed here can be reversed by stopping drug use and never again touching drugs, the loss of brain cells is permanent and lost brain function will never return, even if you manage to go completely clean and live a healthy life for decades.

Severe Psychological Issues

Psychological issues

The long term effects of hallucinogenic drugs especially can include audio hallucinations, visual hallucinations, paranoia, false memories, panic attacks, and more. From depression and anxiety to schizophrenia and OCD, most mental health issues that people can suffer from naturally, can also be caused by the chemical imbalances in the brain that long term drug use creates.

The Risk of Drug Overdose

Pills from drug overdose

While this page is all about the long term effects of drug use and overdose is typically a short term risk that can occur on your very first time using, it still needs to be mentioned here. The reason for this is increased tolerance to drugs and increased comfort in taking them also leads to increased quantities over time, making overdose more and more likely.

In this sense, the short and long term effects of drugs almost work together in a deadly combination that isn’t going to end well for you if you continue using.

Combining more than one type of drugs or using drugs with alcohol drastically increases this risk.

Recovering from the Long Term Effects of Drug Use

If you’re a long term alcoholic or drug addict, you may feel like you’re losing hope reading about all of these potential health conditions.

Luckily, it is never hopeless and with the right help and advice, you can recover from your addiction and return to being the best possible version of yourself.

To learn more about how we can help, contact us now!

Serenity Centres runs the most effective and cutting edge rehabilitation facilities available in the UK, and we offer 100% free, no-obligation advice on how best to overcome your drug or alcohol addiction.

Even better?

We offer the UK’s most successful Detox from Home Service, allowing you to overcome your addiction from the comfort of your own home, without needing to invest a lot of time and money into long term inpatient routine.

To learn more, call us now on 0800 118 2892 or go to admissions to schedule a free tour!

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