Both drug abuse and drug addiction can lead to many health problems. These problems vary depending on the type of drug abused. In general, drug abuse weakens the body’s immune system, making it more difficult to fight off infection. People who abuse drugs often engage in risky behaviors, such as unsafe sex and sharing of needles. This makes them more likely to get sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV and hepatitis.
Abusing drugs can affect the way the heart works, including raising the risk for heart attack. Certain drugs, when abused, can damage the kidneys. Other drugs, including heroin, inhalants and steroids, can damage the liver.
All drugs that are abused affect the brain. This is because they cause a pleasurable or euphoric effect. Some drugs damage the brain or cause strokes or seizures. Drug abuse can interfere with memory and attention and can affect decision-making. Over time, the damage to the brain can result in paranoia, depression and aggression, the NIDA says.
People who abuse steroids–for bodybuilding or athletic performance–have problems related to sex hormones. For men, infertility and shrinking of the testicles occur. Women’s bodies become more masculine.
Pregnant women who abuse drugs affect the health of the developing child. Drug abuse may cause miscarriage, preterm birth and low birth weight. As the child grows up, he may have problems with behavior or learning.
Drug abuse and drug dependence have a large impact on society, as well. More than half of the estimated cost of drug abuse is tied to drug-related crime, the NIDA says. This includes the impact on victims of crime, the cost of police and prison services, and loss of a legitimate contribution to society by engaging in a life of crime. Substance abuse treatment and prevention programs, and medical care needed for health problems tied to drug abuse are additional costs.
A teenager who abuses drugs may have problems finishing school. An adult who abuses drugs may have difficulty keeping a job or helping to provide for a family. An older adult who abuses drugs may be more likely to be misdiagnosed with dementia or depression.
Drug addiction is a chronic disease. Like type 2 diabetes, cancer, heart disease and other chronic illnesses, there is no cure. Drug addiction can be successfully treated, however. Treatment that focuses on changing behavior helps many people. People who are addicted to heroin and certain other drugs can be helped with medication.
Most treatment programs are led by people who have been specially trained and licensed as counselors. Many counselors are people who are in recovery themselves, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
Programs range from inpatient treatment at a hospital or center to outpatient treatment and methadone clinics. A variety of programs is available because no single program works for everyone. If you enter a treatment program, you will need to stick with the program for the length of time recommended for it to be effective. Even then, you may need several periods of treatment to remain drug-free.
Where to Go for Help
You can find a treatment center near you by calling SAMHSA toll-free at 800-662-HELP 800-662-HELP (4357), or by visiting the SAMHSA Web site.
About CAGE: The above assessment is a modified CAGE questionnaire