Skip links

Potential Side Effects of Drugs and Alcohol

Drugs and alcohol are chemicals that affect the body and brain in a variety of ways. 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.

There are a few ways a person can take drugs, including injection, inhalation, and orally. The method of ingestion can change how drugs affect your body. For example, the injection of drugs directly into the bloodstream has an immediate impact, while taking them orally delays the effects.

Today, more than 7 million people in Canada suffer from a drug or alcohol addiction, and one in four deaths results from illicit drug use. In fact, more deaths, illnesses, and disabilities are associated with drug abuse than any other preventable health condition. People suffering from drug and alcohol addiction also have a higher risk of unintentional injuries, accidents, and domestic violence incidents.

There is good news: addiction is treatable.

What is Alcohol or Drug Addiction?

Clinically known as substance use disorder, drug abuse or addiction is caused by the habitual taking of addictive substances such as alcohol, marijuana, hallucinogens, and opioids. Substance use disorder is a disease that causes people to compulsively use drugs despite negative consequences.

Side Effects of Alcohol or Drug Addiction

Substance use disorders are associated with a wide range of short- and long-term health effects. 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 of drug addiction may include:

  • A weakened immune system, increasing the risk of illness and infection
  • Heart conditions including abnormal heart rates, heart attacks, collapsed veins, and blood vessel infections from injected drugs
  • Nausea and abdominal pain, which can lead to changes in appetite and weight
  • 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 such as increased body temperature, which can lead to other health problems

The most severe health consequence of drug or alcohol abuse is death. Deaths related to synthetic opioids and heroin have seen the sharpest rise. In the past 12 months, 212,000 people aged 12 or older used heroin for the first time. Every day, more than 10 Canadians die after intentional or accidental opioid overdoses.

Alcohol use can lead to more lasting concerns that extend beyond your mood and health. All of the side effects for drug addiction apply to alcohol as well.

Some long-term effects of frequent alcohol consumption include:

  • Persistent changes in mood, including anxiety and irritability
  • Insomnia and other sleep concerns
  • A weakened immune system, meaning you might get sick more often
  • Changes in sexual function
  • Changes in appetite and weight
  • Problems with memory and concentration
  • Difficulty focusing on tasks
  • Increased tension and conflict in romantic and family relationships

risk of illness and infection

Side Effects of Alcohol and Drug Addiction on the Brain

All drugs – alcohol, nicotine, cocaine, marijuana, and others – affect the brain’s “reward” circuit, which is part of the limbic system. This area of the brain affects instinct and mood. Drugs target this system, which causes large amounts of dopamine, a brain chemical that helps regulate emotions and feelings of pleasure, to flood the brain. This flood of dopamine is what causes a “high”. It’s one of the main causes of drug addiction.

Although initial drug use may be voluntary, drugs can alter brain chemistry. This can actually change how the brain performs and interfere with a person’s ability to make choices. It can lead to intense cravings and compulsive drug use. Over time, this behaviour can turn into a substance dependency or drug and alcohol addiction.

Alcohol can have short- and long-term side effects on the brain and disrupts the brain’s communication pathways. These can influence mood, behaviour, and cognitive functioning.

Brain damage may also occur through alcohol-induced nutrition deficiencies, alcohol-induced seizures, and liver disease.

It is reported that alcohol-induced brain problems can often be corrected with proper addiction treatment. Abstinence from alcohol for months or years can help partially repair cognitive abilities, like memory.

Side Effects of Alcohol and Drug Addiction on Behaviour

Substance use disorders can lead to multiple behavioural problems, both in the short- and long-term, which can include:

  • Paranoia
  • Aggressiveness
  • Hallucinations
  • Addiction
  • Impaired judgement
  • Impulsiveness
  • Loss of self-control

These side effects can have serious consequences, like missed work, the commission of illegal acts, accidents, and injuries. In fact, alcohol and drugs are at least partly to blame in an estimated 30% of offences leading to jail time in Canada. These incidents include domestic violence, driving while intoxicated, and offences related to damaged property.

Legal and illegal drugs excluding alcohol are involved in about 16% of car crashes. In the past year, almost 12 million people drove under the influence of illicit drugs, and almost 2,000 fatally injured drivers tested positive for drug involvement.

Side Effects of Addiction on Unborn Babies

Drug and alcohol use poses risks for pregnant women and their babies. Drugs may contain impurities that can be harmful to an unborn baby. Pregnant women who use drugs may be more likely to harm the fetus with risky behaviours and poor nutrition.

Drug use can lead to premature birth or low birth weight. It can also cause the baby to have withdrawal symptoms (sometimes in the form of neonatal abstinence syndrome), birth defects or learning and behavioural problems later in life.

In pregnant women, alcohol exposure can impact the brains of unborn babies, resulting in fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.

risks for pregnant

Getting Help

An estimated 20 % of adults in Canada with a substance use disorder reported receiving addiction treatment in the past year. This is an under-addressed condition. At Thousand Islands Rehab Centre, we offer addiction treatment programs for all levels of drug addiction. All of our treatment programs are customised, so you will know that you are receiving the treatment you need. Give us a call to find out more about our addiction rehab programs. The sooner you start recovery; the sooner you will get a new life.

Leave a comment