Drug addiction is a brain disease. Although initial drug use might be voluntary, drugs of abuse have been shown to alter gene expression and brain circuitry, which in turn affect human behavior. Once addiction develops, these brain changes interfere with an individual’s ability to make voluntary decisions, leading to compulsive drug craving, seeking and use.
Drug-related deaths have more than doubled since the early 1980s (http://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/medical-consequences-drug-abuse/mortality). There are more deaths, illness, and disabilities from substance abuse than from any other preventable health condition. Today, one in four deaths is attributable to alcohol, tobacco, and illicit drug use.
In addition to the effects various drugs of abuse may have on specific organs of the body, many drugs produce global body changes such as dramatic changes in appetite and increases in body temperature, which may impact a variety of health conditions. Withdrawal from drug use also may lead to numerous adverse health effects, including restlessness, mood swings, fatigue, changes in appetite, muscle and bone pain, insomnia, cold flashes, diarrhea, and vomiting.
All drugs of abuse act in the brain to produce their euphoric effects; however some of them also have severe negative consequences in the brain such as seizures, stroke, and widespread brain damage that can impact all aspects of daily life. Drug use can also cause brain changes that lead to problems with memory, attention and decision-making.
Consequences of Methamphetamine and Amphetamine Use:
- Effects of usage include addiction, psychotic behavior, and brain damage. –Office of National Drug Control Policy, Drug Facts: Methamphetamine, September 2006
- Withdrawal symptoms include depression, anxiety, fatigue, paranoia, aggression, and intense cravings. –Office of National Drug Control Policy, Drug Facts: Methamphetamine, September, 2006
- Chronic use can cause the user to develop a tolerance to the effects of the drugs leading them to use more frequently and in higher doses. –Office of National Drug Control Policy, Drug Facts: Methamphetamine, September, 2006
- Damage to the brain cause by meth usage includes damage to the dopamine system associated with reduced motor speed and impaired verbal learning. Damage to structures in the brain associated with memory and emotion have also been observed. –Office of National Drug Control Policy, Drug Facts: Methamphetamine, September, 2006
A Connection Between Methamphetamine Use and HIV?
“Methamphetamine abuse is linked with HIV, Hepatitis C, and other sexually transmitted diseases, not only by the use of contaminated injection equipment, but also due to increased risky sexual behaviors.” – Dr. Nora Volkow, NIDA
Meth users have a higher prevalence of STDs (Semple 2004), have more high-risk sex (Rawson 2002, Farabee 2002), (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1525267/ for the previous 2 points) use condoms less (Molitor 1998) and have more sexual partners than heroin users (Gibson 2002).
Consequences of Cocaine Use:
- Cocaine is powerfully addictive. –Office of National Drug Control Policy, Drug Facts: Cocaine, March 2010
- Smoking crack can cause severe chest pains with lung trauma and bleeding. –Drug Enforcement Administration, Drug Descriptions: Cocaine
- The mixing of cocaine and alcohol create cocaethylene while increasing risk of sudden death. –National Institute on Drug Abuse, Infofax: Crack and Cocaine, October 2001
- Cocaine-related deaths are often a result of cardiac arrest or seizures followed by respiratory arrest. –Office of National Drug Control Policy, Drug Facts: Cocaine, March 2010
Consequences of Heroin Use:
- One of the most significant effects of heroin use is addiction. Once tolerance happens, higher does become necessary to achieve the desired effect, and physical dependence develops. –U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institute on Drug Abuse, Infofax: Heroin, 2000
- Chronic use may cause collapsed veins, infection of heart lining and valves, abscesses, liver disease, pulmonary complications, and various types of pneumonia. –U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institute on Drug Abuse, Infofax: Heroin, 2010 (http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/heroin)
- May cause depression of central nervous system, cloudy mental functioning, and slowed breathing to the point of respiratory failure. –U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institute on Drug Abuse, Research Report: Heroin Abuse and Addiction, 1999
- Heroin overdose may cause slow and shallow breathing, convulsions, coma, and possibly death. –Drug Enforcement Administration, Drug Descriptions: Heroin
- Users put themselves at risk for contracting HIV, hepatitis B and C, and other viruses. –Office of National Drug Control Policy, Drug Facts: Heroin
Researchers have found a connection between the abuse of most drugs and adverse cardiovascular effects, ranging from abnormal heart rate to heart attacks. Injection drug use can also lead to cardiovascular problems such as collapsed veins and bacterial infections of the blood vessels and heart valves.
Chronic use of some drugs, such as heroin, inhalants and steroids, may lead to significant damage to the liver.
Consequences of Marijuana Use:
- May cause frequent respiratory infections, impaired memory and learning, increased heart rate, anxiety, panic attacks, tolerance, and physical dependence. –Office of National Drug Control Policy, Drug Descriptions: Marijuana, May 2002
- Use of marijuana during the first month of breast-feeding can impair infant motor development. –National Institute on Drug Abuse, Marijuana Infofax, October 2001
- Chronic smokers may have many of the same respiratory problems as tobacco smokers including daily cough and phlegm, chronic bronchitis symptoms, frequent chest colds; chronic abuse can also lead to abnormal functioning of lung tissues. –Office of National Drug Control Policy, Drug Descriptions: Marijuana, May 2002
- A study of college students has shown that skills related to attention, memory, and learning are impaired among people who use marijuana heavily, even after discontinuing its use for at least 24 hours. –National Institute on Drug Abuse, Marijuana Infofax, October 2001
Drug abuse can lead to a variety of respiratory problems. Smoking cigarettes, for example, has been shown to cause bronchitis, emphysema and lung cancer. Marijuana smoke may also cause respiratory problems. The use of some drugs may also cause breathing to slow, block air from entering the lungs or exacerbate asthma symptoms.
Cigarette smoking is the most preventable cause of cancer in the U.S. Smoking cigarettes has been linked to cancer of the mouth, neck, stomach, and lung, among others. Smoking marijuana also exposes the lungs to carcinogens and can cause precancerous changes to the lungs similar to cigarette smoke.
Consequences of Steroid Use:
- Major side effects can include liver tumors and cancer, jaundice, high blood pressure, kidney tumors, severe acne, and trembling.
- For men – shrinking of the testicles, reduced sperm count, infertility, baldness, development of breasts, increased risk for prostate cancer.
- For women – growth of facial hair, male-pattern baldness, changes in or cessation of the menstrual cycle, enlargement of the clitoris, deepened voice.
- For adolescents – growth halted prematurely through premature skeletal maturation and accelerated puberty changes. This means that adolescents risk remaining short for the remainder of their lives if they take anabolic steroids before the typical adolescent growth spurt.
Steroid use during childhood or adolescence, resulting in artificially high sex hormone levels, can signal the bones to stop growing earlier than they normally would have, leading to short stature. Other drugs may also cause severe muscle cramping and overall muscle weakness.
Consequences of MDMA (Ecstasy) Use:
- In high doses, MDMA can interfere with the body’s ability to regulate temperature. This can lead to a sharp increase in body temperature (hyperthermia), resulting in liver, kidney, and cardiovascular system failure.
- Because MDMA can interfere with its own metabolism (breakdown within the body), potentially harmful levels can be reached by repeated drug use within short intervals.
- Users of MDMA face risks including increases in heart rate and blood pressure, a special risk for people with circulatory problems or heart disease, and other symptoms such as muscle tension, involuntary teeth clenching, nausea, blurred vision, faintness, and chills or sweating.
Hidden Risk: Drug Purity
Other drugs chemically similar to MDMA, such as MDA (methylenedioxyamphetamine, the parent drug of MDMA) and PMA (paramethoxyamphetamine, associated with fatalities in the U.S. and Australia) are sometimes sold as ecstasy. These drugs can be neurotoxic or create additional health risks to the user.
Consequences of Prescription Drug Abuse:
- Long-term usage can lead to physical dependence.
- A large dosage can cause severe respiratory depression that can lead to death.
- Withdrawal symptoms include restlessness, muscle and bone pain, insomnia, diarrhea, vomiting, cold flashes with goose bumps, and involuntary leg movements.