Most drug-related addictions can be traced back to commonly used, easily obtainable substances. Becoming educated on the types of drugs that are highly addictive and their effects on the brain and body are essential in understanding addiction and recognizing the signs that you or a loved one may be struggling.

Alcohol

The effects of alcohol abuse can be horrific, but its daily use has become commonplace for many. While some have no problem controlling the amount of alcohol they consume, others find it hard finding a stopping point. With its prevalence in the high school and college party atmospheres, many find themselves addicted at a young age without understanding how it is affecting their bodies. Alcohol abuse can have both immediate and long-term effects that can lead to death. In fact, alcohol is responsible for an estimated 88,000 deaths annually. “Alcohol facts and statistics”

Facts About Alcohol

  • Alcohol is the most commonly used addictive substance in the United States: 17.6 million people, or one in every 12 adults, suffer from alcohol abuse or dependence along with several million more who engage in risky, binge drinking behaviors that can lead to alcohol problems
  • Alcohol is classified as a depressant that, once consumed, rapidly infiltrates and slows the central nervous system Alcoholism and its effects on the central nervous system”
  • Alcoholism is the 3rd leading lifestyle-related cause of death in the nation
  • Excessive alcohol use is responsible for 2.5 million years of potential life lost annually, or an average of about 30 years of potential life lost for each death
  • Up to 40% of all hospital beds in the United States are being used to treat health conditions that are related to alcohol consumption “Facts about alcohol”

How alcohol affects the body:

Brain:
Alcohol interferes with the brain’s communication pathways, and can affect the way the brain looks and works. These disruptions can change mood and behavior, and make it harder to think clearly and move with coordination.

Heart:
Drinking a lot over a long time or too much on a single occasion can damage the heart, causing problems including:

  • Cardiomyopathy – stretching and drooping of heart muscle
  • Arrhythmias – irregular heart beat
  • Stroke
  • High blood pressure

Liver:
Heavy drinking takes a toll on the liver, and can lead to a variety of problems and liver inflammations including:

  • Steatosis, or fatty liver
  • Alcoholic hepatitis
  • Fibrosis
  • Cirrhosis

Pancreas:
Alcohol causes the pancreas to produce toxic substances that can eventually lead to pancreatitis, a dangerous inflammation and swelling of the blood vessels in the pancreas that prevents proper digestion.

Immune System:
Drinking too much can weaken your immune system, making your body a much easier target for disease. Chronic drinkers are more liable to contract diseases like pneumonia and tuberculosis than people who do not drink too much. Drinking a lot on a single occasion slows your body’s ability to ward off infections – even up to 24 hours after getting drunk. “Alcohol’s effects on the Body”

Signs of Alcohol Dependence:

  • According to the American Psychiatric Association
  • More than once wanted to cut down or stop drinking, or tried to, but couldn’t
  • A great deal of time is spent in activities necessary to obtain alcohol, use alcohol, or recover from its effects
  • Found that drinking—or being sick from drinking—often interfered with taking care of the home or family, caused job troubles, or school problems
  • Continued to drink even though it was causing trouble with family or friends
  • Given up or cut back on activities that were important or interesting, or gave pleasure, in order to drink
  • More than once gotten into situations while or after drinking that increased chances of getting hurt (such as driving, swimming, using machinery, walking in a dangerous area, or having unsafe sex)
  • Continued to drink even though it was causing feelings of depression or anxiousness or adding to another health problems
  • Had to drink much more than that was previously consumed to get the desired effect, or found that the usual number of drinks had much less effect than before
  • Found that when the effects of alcohol were wearing off, withdrawal symptoms occurred, such as trouble sleeping, shakiness, restlessness, nausea, sweating, a racing heart, or a seizure “Alcohol use disorder: a comparison between DSM-IV and DSM V”

 

Tobacco

Some might be under the assumption that tobacco is not a drug due to its subtle mind-altering properties, but as the cause of over 7 million deaths per year worldwide, ”Smoking and tobacco use” many find themselves unknowingly at the mercy of nicotine addiction. Nicotine is the main chemical in tobacco products and comes in many forms. Some of these include: cigarettes, cigars, smokeless tobacco (chew, dip, snuff), and more recently, electronic cigarettes*. While short term use may seem harmless, especially as electronic forms of consuming nicotine are often marketed as “safe-alternatives”, long-term use can result in a variety of health problems and those with nicotine dependence can be at risk of abusing other substances.

* Electronic cigarettes, also known as e-cigarettes or e-vaporizers, are battery-operated devices that deliver nicotine with flavorings and other chemicals to the lungs in vapor instead of smoke. E-cigarette companies often advertise them as safer than traditional cigarettes because they don’t burn tobacco. But researchers actually know little about the health risks of using these devices. “Cigarettes and other tobacco products”

Facts about Tobacco:

  • More than 16 million Americans are living with a disease caused by smoking
  • Cigarette smoking is responsible for more than 480,000 deaths per year in the United States, including more than 41,000 deaths resulting from secondhand smoke exposure
  • Smoking causes cancer, heart disease, stroke, lung diseases, diabetes, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis
  • Smoking also increases risk for tuberculosis, certain eye diseases, and problems of the immune system, including rheumatoid arthritis “Smoking and tobacco use”

 

How Tobacco / Nicotine Affects the Body:
Although nicotine is the addictive component in tobacco, most health related risks are associated with the additive chemicals found in tobacco products. The nicotine found in tobacco products immediately absorbs into the blood stream through inhalation or used orally. Some of the ways that tobacco and nicotine affect the body include:

Brain:

  • Nicotine stimulates the adrenal glands to release the hormone epinephrine (adrenaline)
  • Epinephrine stimulates the central nervous system
  • Activates the brain’s reward circuits and also increases levels of dopamine, which reinforces rewarding behaviors. “Cigarettes and other tobacco products”


Lungs:

  • Cancer
  • Chronic Bronchitis
  • Emphysema

Heart:

  • Increased risk of heart disease, stroke, or heart attack
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased heart rate


Signs of Tobacco / Nicotine Dependence:

 

Marijuana

Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug in the United States. “Drug facts: marijuana”  Much of the controversy that surrounds the use of Marijuana stems from the perceived notion that it is not addictive. However, studies have shown that Marijuana use can lead to the development of problem use, known as a marijuana use disorder, which takes the form of addiction in severe cases. “Marijuana”  Furthermore, the health risks associated with Marijuana are largely ignored due to its widely accepted use.

Facts about Marijuana:

  • Each year more teens enter treatment with a primary diagnosis of marijuana dependence than all other illicit drugs combined
  • Long-term marijuana use can lead to addiction for about 9% of users
  • Marijuana’s adverse impact on learning and memory can last for days or weeks after the acute effects of the drug wear off
  • A number of studies have shown an association between chronic marijuana use and increased rates of anxiety, depression, and schizophrenia with age at first use to be an important risk factor “Marijuana and mental health”

How Marijuana Affects the Body:
Marijuana can be consumed through smoke or vapor inhalation, or digested via edibles or oils-all of which have similar effects on how they affect the body. The main chemical found in Marijuana is THC. As THC enters the bloodstream, it is carried throughout the body and attaches to certain brain receptors which are over activated creating the high.  “Drug facts: marijuana”

Short term effects:

  • Altered senses
  • Changes in mood
  • Impaired body movement
  • Difficulty with thinking and problem-solving
  • Impaired memory

Long term effects:

  • Long-term marijuana use has been linked to mental illness in some people, such as:
  • Paranoia
  • Worsening symptoms in patients with schizophrenia — a severe mental disorder with symptoms such as hallucinations, paranoia, and disorganized thinking
  • Other mental health problems:

Signs of Marijuana Dependence:

Where Marijuana is legal:
As more state laws are changing in favor of both legal and medicinal Marijuana, its ease of access to those who are susceptible to drug abuse is higher than ever. Is Marijuana legal in your state? See the map below to see where marijuana can be purchased legally:

states where marijuana is legal

Are you struggling with addiction and need help?

The hardest step in recovery is admitting you have a problem and finding the courage to reach out for help. In the chaos of addiction, sometimes it may seem impossible to recover from the depths you may find yourself in whether it be mentally, financially, or physically. When the phone feels like a thousand pound weight or the head-buzzing questions of doubt and what-ifs feel like too much, know that you are not alone and there is hope for you. Herren Project helps those who feel they have nowhere to turn. With a dedicated, judgement-free team, let us guide you through the process of recovery each step of the way. The moment you reach out is the moment you start the process to living life as your best self.  Get Help Today!