Drug Use From Head to Toe: How Drug Abuse Affects the Body

how drug abuse affects the bodyThe body is a finely tuned machine. It’s a precision instrument that requires special care to stay in proper working order. What we put into it determines how well it operates.

Nature has determined that we need water, calories, minerals, and vitamins to survive. As inventive creatures, we’ve created substances that nature never intended for us to consume. The consequences of such consumption are all too visible on the mind and body.

Drugs are filled with harmful chemicals. Even drugs that purport to be natural can be infused with all kinds of chemicals throughout the manufacturing and distribution process. No drug is ever pure or natural. Drugs do no good.

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Negative Effects of Drugs on the Body

Drugs affect every aspect of the human body, from what we can see to what we can’t. Our bodies aren’t designed to ingest large amounts of unnatural substances. We’re meant to consume what contributes to our basic survival, and nothing more.

The physical effects of drug abuse on the human body are clear when viewed through the prism of normal bodily functions.

Drugs can make the:

  • Heartbeat faster
  • Mouth and throat feel dry
  • Breath to quicken or slow
  • Hands feel sweaty
  • Pupils dilate


The physical signs of drug abuse reside alongside the mental. Drug abuse affects the body and the mind. It causes distorted thoughts and emotions. Every day bodily functions become impaired.

drug abuse affects the way you see, hear, smell, move, eat, think & sleep

Long-term drug abuse results in a tolerance, which means the body becomes used to the drug. This doesn’t mean the body is accepting of the drug; it means that the parts of the body objecting to the drug are slowly dying off. Drugs kill the body.

Once a tolerance has developed, the person needs to do more and more drugs to get the same feeling. Not only is this an expensive endeavor, but it’s also a dangerous one. As certain parts of the body stop fighting the massive chemical intake, overdosing and death become real possibilities.

Beyond affecting how people feel and act, drugs have a very visible impact on how people look. Every aspect of the body is touched by drug addiction.

Drugs and the Face

What’s the one thing on our bodies that everyone sees the most of? Our face. The physical effects of drug abuse on the body are most evident above the shoulders.

The face is most exposed to the elements. When drugs degrade the skin’s ability to function properly, it becomes easier for the sun or cold weather to leave permanent scars. Everyday acts such as eating and sleeping are problematic.

drug abuse affects breath, hair, teeth and more

Here, a recovering heroin addict painfully describes how prolonged drug addiction affected her skin:

“My acne was so bad I couldn’t sleep on one side of my face. I couldn’t smile or chew. I couldn’t go to work. I couldn’t see myself … I’d rather swallow nails than look in a mirror.”

This horrible description of a very personal and painful condition related to drug addiction is the rule, not the exception. The before and after pictures of drug addiction all look the same. No one gets prettier or more handsome.
Here are just some of the ways that drug addiction affects the face:

  • Drug use and bad skin: Prolonged drug abuse leads to loss of skin elasticity. The skin wrinkles and sags prematurely. Skin spots, acne, and acne scars develop. Long-term drug addicts can look much as 20 years older than they really are. Almost 80 percent of the cocaine coming into the United States today has levamisole mixed in, which is a medicine used by veterinarians to de-worm farm animals. This common cocaine additive inflames small blood vessels and leads to skin cell death.
  • Drug use and bad teeth: There’s a street term for people who’ve been doing meth for a long time: meth mouth. Drugs in general, not just meth, cause the user to neglect personal hygiene. Some drugs dry out the salivary glands, cause users to grind their teeth and rot teeth out from the root. Methamphetamines, in particular, have acidic components that dissolve tooth enamel.
  • Drug use and bad breath: When you combine dental decay, chronically ground teeth, constricted small blood vessels, dry mouth, and tooth loss, you get the perfect breeding ground for gingival lesions and periodontal disease. Rampant halitosis develops in a rotting mouth.
  • Drug use and hair loss: Drugs affect hair in various ways, none of them good. Certain drugs can cause excessive hair growth, hair loss or changes in hair color and texture. Hair either becomes limp and frizzy, or stringy and flat. The good news is that drug-induced hair loss is almost always reversible once the user stops taking the drug.
  • Drug use and eyesight: Your eyes are quite remarkable. They can distinguish approximately 10 million different colors and if the earth were flat, could see a candle up to 30 miles away. One notable exception to these amazing abilities is during drug abuse. The constant drying out of the eyes that comes with drug abuse can do lasting damage. A healthy set of eyes may need glasses far earlier in life than normally would’ve been the case.


The physical effects of drug abuse are clear, but it’s the damage going on inside that causes the real problems. The human body exists in a state of harmony with itself, and each internal organ contributes to a whole that allows us to function normally. The danger is in how drugs affect that which we don’t see.

Effects of Drugs on Internal Organs

What goes on underneath the skin dictates our life. Though our skin is the largest organ on our body, the organs living underneath it require special attention.

Each organ in our body serves a specific function. These functions are designed to help our body absorb nutrients and dispel waste. Everything we put into our body is filtered through specific internal organs.

When a person is drunk, their liver is overloaded with alcohol. It can no longer process it out of the body with enough speed to keep the drinker from feeling the effects. This is where alcohol poisoning comes from. What’s being poisoned is the liver. This is just one example of how internal organs are affected by drugs or alcohol.

Here are some more examples of how drugs and alcohol affect various bodily systems:

  • The Cardiovascular System: Problems arise when the heart is constantly sped up or slowed down. Drug addiction leads to adverse cardiovascular conditions, including cardiac arrhythmia and arrest. The use of injection drugs leads to collapsed veins and bacterial infections within heart valves and blood vessel walls.
  • The Respiratory System: A variety of respiratory problems arise from persistent drug use. Inhaling harsh chemicals could lead to bronchitis, emphysema and lung cancer. Some drugs induce shallow breath and block air from entering the lungs, which can cause complications for those suffering from asthma.
  • The Gastrointestinal System: Many drugs are designed to be eaten. As they travel through the gastrointestinal system, they do untold damage to several organs. Abuse of certain drugs leads to inflammation of the stomach, nausea, vomiting, chronic constipation or diarrhea, abdominal bloating and liver damage. It’s widely known that lifelong alcohol abuse leads to cirrhosis of the liver.
  • The Musculoskeletal System: Drug abuse does lasting damage to the musculoskeletal system. It results in problems with posture, strength and muscle stamina. Some drugs, such as steroids, interact with sex hormones, resulting in stunted bone growth. Other drugs, such as heroin, can cause severe muscle cramping, weakness and overall loss of muscle mass.


Internal organs not tied to specific systems are also susceptible to drug abuse damage. Some drugs cause kidney damage so serious that total failure and dialysis follow. The average cost per visit for a kidney dialysis treatment is $2,607.

The internal organ most affected by drug abuse is the brain. Our very existence is threatened by damage to our brains.

Effects of Drugs on the Brain

Our brains determine everything about our lives. They are the very center of our existence, alongside our hearts and perhaps our souls. The brain is the organ that should be cherished above all. The body exists to support the mind.

The human brain is a remarkable piece of organic machinery. While the brain accounts for approximately 2 percent of the body’s mass, it consumes up to 20 percent of the body’s oxygen and calorie intake. Information travels throughout the brain at a whopping speed of 250 mph.

The human brain is segmented into four key areas of control:

  1. The Cerebral Cortex: Information processing, thought, speaking, solving problems, decision making
  2. The Cerebellum: Motor control, balance, coordination, equilibrium, posture
  3. The Limbic System: Pleasure, reward, pain, emotions, learning
  4. The Brain Stem: Sleeping, breathing, heart rate, basic bodily functions


Though the negative effects of drugs on these vital parts of the brain aren’t visible, they’re just as devastating. Drug abuse rewires the brain’s chemical makeup.

The delicate hormonal balance within the mind is disrupted by the chemicals in drugs. When drugs are put into the body, whether by smoking, snorting, injecting or eating them, they access the brain’s communication center and disrupt the way nerve cells send, receive and process information.

two different ways that drugs affect the brain

Drugs that mimic the neurotransmitters in the brain, such as marijuana and heroin, fool the brain’s receptors and cause them to lock on and activate other nerve cells. Although drugs may act like nerve cells, they aren’t, so they wind up sending abnormal messages across the brain

Drugs that overstimulate the brain’s reward centers, such as cocaine and methamphetamine, cause the brain to release abnormal amounts of dopamine, which is a natural neurotransmitter. This overly large amount of a natural neurotransmitter leads to problems with how the brain communicates with itself and the body.

If a normal dopamine burst is a whisper, then one induced by drugs is a shout. It’s hard to hear much of anything in a room full of shouting. The same goes for our brain.

The brain will adjust to repeated dopamine bursts, and not in a good way. The result is less dopamine signaling when the user is not on drugs, causing things like:

  • Depression
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Restlessness
  • Confusion


Drugs fundamentally change the way the brain processes what’s going on around it. They alter the way it reacts to certain situations; once quite normal decisions turn into bizarre choices because the brain now perceives things differently.

The human brain is wired to ensure we repeat activities that are good for us, such as eating, drinking water, breathing and staying active. When the brain’s reward circuits are hijacked by drugs, it begins to equate drug use to a life-or-death activity. The brain has difficulty discerning what’s good or bad for it.

Drug Abuse leads to memory loss, coordination loss, mood swings

  • Memory loss: While many point to marijuana as the main memory-loss culprit, memory loss can result from various types of drug use. With the brain in a haze, it’s hard to remember what you just said or did. Suddenly, once easy tasks seem very complicated. Drug abuse affects the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus regions of the brain, which are responsible for thinking and memory functions.
  • Loss of coordination: Drugs affect a person’s coordination and severely impair basic motor skills. Athletic abilities, driving skills, and equilibrium are all impacted when the cerebellum suffers a short circuit brought on by drug use.
  • Inability to control moods: Various drugs affect the amygdala, which is the part of the brain that controls emotion and motivation. When this region is abnormally stimulated, the user could feel anxiety, rage or hostility for no reason.

How Drug Addiction Can Cause Strokes

A stroke occurs when blood flow to the brain is compromised, or the blood vessels in the brain burst. In other words, there is some type of blockage that prevents the blood from getting where it needs to go. This starves the brain of oxygen and other necessary nutrients, causing a shut-down. A rupture of the vessels may accompany stroke. Some stroke incidents are considered minor, and victims can make a full recovery with treatment. Others cause permanent damage or are fatal.

Often, stroke is linked to heart disease and high blood pressure, among other conditions. It can also be caused by the use of certain drugs, as well as the abuse of illegal substances and legally obtained medications. For instance, certain street drugs such as meth and crack force the heart to pump faster and faster. This, in turn, can lead the walls of the blood vessels to unnaturally expand. One breakage is all it takes, and it can even happen the first time a drug user tries a drug. Because of this, it is important for drug addicts to get into recovery as soon as possible to limit their chance of experiencing a stroke.

Seek Help Today

Being impaired isn’t the only danger drug abuse poses to the mind. Some drugs create ideal conditions for blood clots to form and make their way into the brain. Others raise blood pressure to dangerously high, or low, levels.

One recovering drug addict tragically describes what happened to a friend who was addicted to methamphetamines:

“I had been using the drug for a month when I met a young woman and fell in love. She also used the drug. After dating for less than two months she had a stroke. She was 28. Methamphetamine was one of the primary causes of the high blood pressure that caused a blood vessel in her brain to rupture. She nearly died … She suffers from partial paralysis on her left side.”

The long-term effects of drugs on the brain aren’t permanent, but the longer the use, the harder it will be for the brain to recover. It takes time for the human brain to readjust to normal levels of dopamine, serotonin and other chemicals that are unnaturally disrupted by drug abuse.

It’s not hard to see the negative effects of drugs on the body and mind. Drugs are filled with things nature never intended for us to ingest, let alone be addicted to.

With careful effort, the damaging physical effects of drugs on the brain and body don’t have to be permanent. The solution to a body and mind destroyed by drug abuse lies in sobriety. If you or a loved one is suffering from the destructive physical or mental effects of drug abuse, contact 12 Keys today.

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